The worldwide number of COVID-19 cases soared past the 23 million mark Saturday while the number of deaths hit 800,566, according to John Hopkins University data.

In South Korea, fears of a new surge prompted the government to again ban large gatherings, close beaches, and shut nightspots and churches.

In the U.S., the number of cases topped 5.6 million and deaths climbed to 175,588.

In California, the ongoing pandemic and social distancing restrictions are, yet again, complicating disaster relief efforts as more than 100,000 Californians flee raging wildfires. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said evacuation centers across the state had protocols in place, such as marked spaces for physical distancing in shelters, indoor tents, temperature checks and individual, instead of communal, meals.

Meanwhile, efforts to reopen schools nationwide are being complicated by a virus data problem.

Some significant developments:

  • The House of Representatives passed legislation Saturday to prevent any further changes at the United States Postal Service and to provide $25 billion in funding ahead of an expected surge in mail-in ballots in the November election amid the ongoing pandemic.
  • Home sales soared in July, continuing a rebound buoyed in part by buyers seeking a more comfortable home amid social distancing restrictions.
  • As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. during the first seven months of 2020, suggesting that the number of lives lost to the coronavirus is significantly higher than the official toll.
  • Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he would do whatever was needed to keep the country safe amid the coronavirus pandemic even if that meant shutting down the country.
  • Churchill Downs will no longer allow fans at the 146th Kentucky Derby, though the iconic horse race will still be run.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 5.6 million confirmed infections and more than 175,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 800,000 deaths and 23 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.📰

What we’re readingExperts say it’s crucial to get the flu shot this year. It’s hard to know for sure how COVID-19 will mix with this year’s flu season — both viruses could simultaneously wreak havoc on the nation as some schools reopen for in-person learning.

New York blocks wedding with 175 expected guests

A federal appeals court Friday granted New York’s attempts to block weddings from having more than 50 people, allowing the court fight to continue.

The ruling thwarted efforts by at least one couple to have a large wedding this weekend and leaves in doubt any other weddings that exceed more than 50 attendees. One couple planned on being married Saturday in Erie County with 175 people expected to attend, the court papers said.

The couple’s attorney, Anthony Rupp, told the Times Union the wedding will be moved to a later date. “We had won every stage of this thing, but the judge in the 2nd Circuit just cavalierly postponed it until Tuesday,” Rupp said. “So we’re very unhappy about this decision.”

— Joseph Spector, New York State Team

Health officials say bar hopper at Sturgis motorcycle rally tests positive for virus

Fewer than 25 coronavirus cases have been connected to the 10-day Sturgis motorcycle rally this month, South Dakota epidemiologist Josh Clayton said. Those are cases where the person attended the rally within 14 days of the onset of their symptoms. He cautioned that it doesn’t mean the rally is the only place where they may have been exposed to it.

South Dakota health officials say anyone who visited three bars in Sturgis on Aug. 15 should monitor for symptoms of the coronavirus. A person who tested positive for COVID-19 visited The Knuckle Saloon, the Broken Spoke and One Eyed Jack’s, the officials said Friday.

This confirmed case comes one day after state health officials announced potential COVID-19 exposure at a local tattoo parlor, another bar and a grill.

Meanwhile, 15 Minnesotans contracted the coronavirus after exposure during the 10-day rally, the Associated Press reports. 

— Megan Raposa, Sioux Falls Argue Leader

South Korea reimposes ban on large gatherings, closes beaches as virus threat returns

South Korea, which in spring had celebrated hard-won gains against the coronavirus, is again banning large gatherings, closing beaches, shutting nightspots and churches, and removing fans from professional sports in strict new measures announced Saturday as it battles the spread of the disease.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo announced the steps shortly after the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 332 new cases – the ninth straight day of triple-digit increases. The national caseload is now at 17,002, including 309 deaths.

While most of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the center of the viral surge in recent weeks, infections were also reported in almost every major city and town, raising concerns that transmissions are slipping out of control.

The government had already imposed elevated social distancing measures in Seoul this week after resisting them for months out of economic concerns. “We are now in a very dangerous situation that could trigger a massive nationwide spread of COVID-19,” Park said.

— The Associated Press

Biden ready to shut down the country to stop virus if scientists recommend it

To stop the spread of the coronavirus, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he is prepared to shut the country down as president if that were recommended by scientists. “I would shut it down. I would listen to the scientists,” the former vice president told ABC News’ David Muir on Friday in an interview set to air Sunday.

Biden’s comments are the strongest he has proposed if he becomes president to squash the spread of COVID-19 – which has infected over 5.6 million and killed more than 175,000 people in the U.S. as of Saturday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University.

He continued that “in order to keep the country running and moving and the economy growing, and people employed, you have to fix the virus, you have to deal with the virus.”

— Savannah Behrmann

6-year-old girl is Florida’s youngest COVID-19 fatality

A 6-year-old Florida girl has become the state’s youngest victim of the coronavirus pandemic. The Hillsborough county child was among 117 new deaths reported Friday by the Florida Department of Health. Her death comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering lifting restrictions that would allow Palm Beach County school children to return to school.

Since the pandemic began in March, seven other children under the age of 18 have succumbed to the highly contagious respiratory disease. The deaths include one child in Broward County and two in Miami-Dade County.

While DeSantis has pushed for the reopening of schools, saying children are less likely to become seriously ill or spread the coronavirus to others, statewide 47,762 children have been infected since March 1. Of those, 3,069 were in Palm Beach County, according to state reports.

— Jane Musgrave, The Palm Beach Post

Parties, crowded off-campus housing could spoil campus anti-virus plans

At Ohio State, more than 65% of students live outside university housing, which has been limited to 20 students under one roof. But will crowding and parties spoil careful social distancing plans on campus?

The university is asking students not to gather in groups of more than 10, even off campus. But by Friday evening, the university was already in the process of opening “dozens” of student disciplinary cases stemming from student parties that officials said failed to follow social distancing rules.

“We have one shot at this – responding to what so many of you asked for: an on-campus semester at Ohio State,” warned Vice President for Student Life Melissa S. Shivers. Read more here. 

– Jennifer Smola, The Columbus Dispatch

Access to parks linked to higher COVID-19 deaths for non-white groups

Among factors contributing to poorer health and more susceptibility to COVID-19 deaths among Black and Hispanic Americans is a significant difference with majority white populations in access to parks for outdoor recreation opportunities, according to a new study.

The report by the nonprofit land-access advocacy group Trust for Public Land finds that parks serving primarily nonwhite populations nationwide are half the size of parks serving majority white populations, and are five times more crowded.

Experts say the lack of access to parks means people living in dense, urban areas have a harder time getting as much physical exercise as recommended and are missing out on equally important mental health wellness opportunities. Black and Hispanic Americans also tend to have higher rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease because they are less likely to go to the doctor or have health insurance, and their overall health is poorer due to systemic poverty.

— Trevor Hughes

Feds want vaccine distribution system in place by Nov. 1

Operation Warp Speed — the White House-led partnership for COVID-19 answers — is pushing its partners to be ready to begin distributing the coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 1.

There has been speculation President Donald Trump might launch an “October Surprise,” counting on the release of a coronavirus vaccine to buoy his chances at the ballot box on Nov. 3.

The Food and Drug Administration and other top government scientists have said only science and data will be taken into account when deciding if a vaccine is accepted.

— Elizabeth Weise

Judge holds church in contempt for indoor worship services

California pastor Rob McCoy and the church he leads were held in contempt of court Friday for failing to obey a restraining order that prohibits indoor worship services in an attempt to curb COVID-19.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent O’Neill Jr. issued the ruling against McCoy and the Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, northwest of Los Angeles, after a two-hour hearing in Ventura. He fined the chapel $3,000, but did not impose any fines on McCoy.

That was half the $6,000 Ventura County officials had recommended against the church, based on a fine of $1,000 for each of the six services held indoors over the past two Sundays. County officials had not recommended a fine against McCoy either.

— Kathleen Wilson, Ventura County Star

US passes 175,000 deaths due to the coronavirus

The U.S. turned a dark corner in the battle against the coronavirus as the death count passed the 175,000 mark Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The dead were among 5.6 million cases in the U.S. so far, about a quarter of the world’s 22.9 million cases. The last milestone was 150,000 at the end of July and before that, 100,000 at the end of May.  The U.S. ranks first among nations in deaths. It is followed by Brazil, Mexico, India and United Kingdom and Italy.

Delta banished SEAL who shot bin Laden for not wearing a mask

The former Navy SEAL who claims he shot Osama bin Laden in 2011 is now back in the news for another reason: being banned from flying Delta Air Lines.

Delta confirmed to USA TODAY on Friday that it banned Robert O’Neill from future flights after he tweeted a photo of himself going maskless on a flight, though he said he had it in his lap.

“I just got banned from @Delta for posting a picture. Wow,” O’Neill tweeted. He becomes part of a group of about 130 people who have been banished for the same reason.

– Jayme Deerwester

1 in 5 nursing homes were short on PPE, staff as virus surged this summer

One in five nursing homes in the United States had severe shortages of personal protective equipment this summer, a new study says, which also found that many facilities in the hardest hit areas struggled to retain staff.

The analysis of federal data published in the journal Health Affairs also found there was no improvement from May to July in the PPE shortages or staffing concerns. COVID-19 cases in the South, West and Midwest surged during that time period.

Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve care for older adults, called the study’s findings “a massive red flag.”

“We have had no coherent federal response,” Fulmer said. The findings come despite pledges from the Trump administration to help. “The federal government should really own this issue,” said study author David Grabowski.