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Live Covid-19 Updates

2020-08-20 03:52:49

Some teachers’ unions push to delay in-person learning, and more colleges go online only.

Educators and families around the United States continued to grapple this week with the complicated realities of opening schools in the middle of a pandemic, as teachers’ unions threatened strikes, colleges rethought reopening plans on the fly, and school districts, discovering new cases, improvised quarantines and classroom cleanings.

The voice of teachers in the reopening debate took center stage Wednesday in Michigan, where the Detroit Federation of Teachers voted to authorize their executive committee to call for a strike over plans to open public schools for in-person learning.

“It’s just simply not safe for us to return into our buildings and classrooms right now,” the union said in a video statement before the vote, noting more than 1,400 virus-related deaths in the community.

New York City’s powerful teachers’ union sought to ramp up pressure on the mayor on Wednesday to delay or call off his plan to reopen the city’s 1,800 schools on Sept. 10. The president of the United Federation of Teachers threatened to sue the city or to support a strike if the city could not satisfy a list of safety demands, and called for all students and staff members to be tested before school starts.

Public sector employees are legally barred from striking in New York, but teachers have threatened to hold sick-outs if they believe school buildings are not safe.

College-bound students were thrown a curve ball Wednesday when the College Board said that more than 178,000 students who signed up to take the SAT college admission test on Aug. 29 would probably not be able to do so because nearly half the testing sites in the nation are closed or operating at limited capacity. All told, some 402,000 students were scheduled to take the test that day.

The board said it was working with local officials to accommodate as many students as possible, and asking colleges to extend their deadlines for receiving test results so students could take the test at a later date.

Some colleges and universities were backtracking as outbreaks flared on just-reopened campuses.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved undergraduate classes entirely online because of four clusters of infections, and the University of Notre Dame said it would move to online instruction for at least the next two weeks to control a growing outbreak. And Michigan State University, which had planned to open Sept. 2 for in-person classes, announced that all undergraduates would be learning remotely.

Sorority and fraternity houses have had outbreaks. Photos and videos circulated widely on the internet show young people gathering maskless outside bars in college towns, or partying in large numbers.

In Georgia, where some K-12 school districts opened without a mask mandate, a number of high schools closed temporarily after outbreaks were discovered.

In Florida this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis compared the commitment of teachers and administrators to the resolve of Navy SEALs going after Osama bin Laden. The state has ordered all schools to offer in-person instruction by Aug. 31, except in hard-hit Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

Many students across the country will be starting school from home — and their parents will be getting little help. In a recent survey for The New York Times, just one in seven parents said their children would be returning to school full-time this fall, but four in five said they would have no in-person help educating and caring for the children at home.

Former President Barack Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren were among the high-profile Democratic leaders who sharply criticized President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis in virtual addresses to their party’s national convention on Wednesday.

In his speech on the convention’s third night, Mr. Obama lamented the consequences of the outbreak in the United States — “170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone” — and said that Mr. Trump had been unable to rise to the challenges that the crisis presented.

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Mr. Obama said. “And the consequences of that failure are severe.”

In a separate speech, Ms. Warren said that the coronavirus crisis was “on Donald Trump and the Republicans who enable him,” and that his administration would be held accountable in the November election.

“Covid-19 was Trump’s biggest test,” Ms. Warren said. “He failed miserably. Today, America has the most Covid deaths in the world, and an economic collapse. And both crises are falling hardest on Black and brown families. Millions out of work, millions more trapped in cycles of poverty. Millions on the brink of losing their homes. Millions of restaurants and stores hanging by a thread.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton framed a vote for Joe Biden in November as one for Americans who are struggling during the pandemic.

“Vote for parents struggling to balance their child’s education and their safety,” she said. “And for health care workers fighting Covid-19 with no help from the White House.”

And Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, said: “Donald Trump’s failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods. If you are a parent struggling with your child’s remote learning, or you are a teacher, struggling on the other side of that screen, you know what we’re doing right now is not working.”

Mr. Trump fired back at Mr. Obama’s speech in real time on Twitter, asking why his predecessor had declined to endorse Mr. Biden “UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?”

Mr. Trump did not address the pandemic itself.

As of Wednesday evening, more than 5.5 million people in the United States have been infected with the virus and at least 172,900 have died, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, there have been a nationwide average of 49,102 cases per day — a decrease of 17 percent from the average two weeks earlier, but well above what was reported in the early months of the pandemic.

Trump administration officials have tried taking a political sledgehammer to China over the pandemic, asserting that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the initial outbreak and allowed the virus to spread around the globe.

But within the United States government, intelligence officials have arrived at a more nuanced and complex finding of what Chinese officials did wrong in January, report Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes and Zolan Kanno-Youngs.

Officials in Beijing were kept in the dark for weeks about the potential devastation of the virus by local officials in central China, according to American officials familiar with a new internal assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The assessment concluded that officials in the city of Wuhan and in Hubei Province, where the outbreak began late last year, tried to hide information from China’s central leadership. The finding is consistent with reporting by news organizations and with assessments by China experts of the country’s opaque governance system.

Local officials often withhold information from Beijing for fear of reprisal, current and former American officials say.

The new assessment does not contradict the Trump administration’s criticism of China, but adds perspective and context to actions — and inaction — that created the global crisis.

President Trump said in a July 4 speech at the White House that “China’s secrecy, deceptions and cover-up” enabled the pandemic, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted the administration was “telling the truth every day” about “the Communist cover-up of that virus.” The accusations dovetail with advice from Trump campaign strategists to look tough on China.

But the broad political messaging leaves an impression that Mr. Xi and other top officials knew of the dangers of the new coronavirus in the early days and went to great lengths to hide them.

The assessment, originally circulated in June, has classified and unclassified sections, and it represents the consensus of the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies. It still supports the overall notion that Communist Party officials hid important information from the world, U.S. officials said. And senior officials in Beijing, even as they were scrambling to pry data from officials in central China, played a role in obscuring the outbreak by withholding information from the World Health Organization.

But the finding adds to a body of evidence that shows how the malfeasance of local Chinese officials appeared to be a decisive factor in the spread of the virus within Wuhan and beyond.

More than five months into the pandemic, dire predictions about how the virus will exacerbate world hunger are playing out across the globe.

In Latin America, the spread of the virus has caused nearly three times as many people to need food assistance. In West and Central Africa, the number of people faced with starvation has more than doubled. In Southern Africa, the number of people affected by food shortages has increased by 90 percent. A quarter of the adults in Britain are in search of affordable food. And in just the first three months of the pandemic, some six million people in the United States requested food stamps. These figures were presented in a report released this month from CARE, a nonprofit focused on poverty that estimates some 270 million people will face food crises by the end of the year.

In April, experts predicted that the number of people faced with the prospect of starving by the end of 2020 would nearly double globally from the previous year because of the pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, some 135 million people globally faced serious food shortages.

The world has experienced severe hunger crises before, but those were largely regional and caused by one factor or another — extreme weather, economic downturns, wars or political instability.

This hunger crisis, experts say, is global and is caused by a series of factors linked to the pandemic and the ensuing economic damages. National lockdowns and social-distancing measures have cost many people their jobs, leading to abrupt income loss for millions of people who were already living hand-to-mouth. And the battered economy has caused drops in oil prices, depleted funding revenues from tourism and halted foreign workers from sending earnings home.

In a rare moment of admission, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York acknowledged at least one shortcoming in his handling of the coronavirus response: His administration should have mandated mask wearing sooner, he said on Wednesday.

“I should have done it earlier,” said Mr. Cuomo, who mandated face coverings in mid-April at the peak of the outbreak in New York, where more than 30,000 people have died from the virus. “I should have done masks earlier. That would have made a dramatic difference.”

Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, has mostly blamed the federal government for allowing the virus to spread unknowingly early on, even as he has been criticized for mishandling the outbreak in the state’s nursing homes and for failing to shut down businesses and schools earlier in March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began urging all Americans to wear a mask in early April.

The governor also said that, early on, the government had failed to recognize that asymptomatic individuals could spread the disease. That mode of transmission has since been widely recognized.

“We were wrong that people who didn’t have symptoms could infect other people,” he said on WAMC, an Albany radio station. “That was just wrong. We spent months saying ‘You have to be sneezed on or coughed on.’ That was just wrong.”

Mr. Cuomo also suggested that he might allow movie theaters to reopen soon with limits on capacity. He recently announced that gyms and bowling alleys across the state, and museums in New York City, could start reopening this month.

On Tuesday, New York City released more than 1.46 million coronavirus antibody test results, the largest number to date, providing more evidence of how the virus penetrated deeply into some lower-income communities while passing more lightly across affluent parts of the city.

Elsewhere in the United States:

  • In Puerto Rico, where cases have been trending upward, Gov. Wanda Vázquez said she was imposing a lockdown that will apply on Sundays through Sept. 11. Violators of the island’s mask order will be subject to a $100 fine. A nightly curfew remains in effect. Under the new Sunday order, Puerto Ricans will be allowed to leave their homes that day for only a handful of reasons, like going to grocery stores, pharmacies or hospitals, or working in essential services. Alcohol sales will be banned and beaches closed. Though houses of worship will be allowed to remain open at 25 percent capacity, Ms. Vázquez urged that religious services be held online.

  • In California, the virus has only complicated officials’ efforts to deal with power outages, an oppressive heat wave and raging fires. Across the state, there were 23 major fires reported on Wednesday and more than 300 smaller ones. “We have to deal with a worldwide pandemic,” said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the state’s office of emergency services. “In a fire season. With the power off. What else do you want from us?”

  • Apple reached $2 trillion in value, with half added in the past 21 weeks, while the global economy shrank faster than ever amid the pandemic.

  • The 4,600 midshipmen, or students, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., began a mix of online and in-person classes on Wednesday, but not all of them will be on campus right away. About 500 students will be housed off campus because dormitory space has been set aside for those who may need to quarantine. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which has more space, allowed all its cadets to be on campus when classes began Monday.

  • The University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which moved to online instruction after a surge of cases, said Wednesday that it was pausing football practice for at least a day “in an abundance of caution.” The announcement came less than a day after Notre Dame said that athletic activities would continue during the university’s two-week run of remote learning. The football team is scheduled to begin its season on Sept. 12.

  • Nevada reported on Wednesday that were 32 new deaths, a single-day record for the state.

A data reporting error in Iowa obscured the true rate of infection there.

Officials in Iowa are correcting a major reporting error in the state’s Covid-19 test results database after the state mislabeled test result dates for thousands of people, obscuring the true rate of infection.

Pat Garrett, a spokesman for Gov. Kim Reynolds, acknowledged the error in a statement on Wednesday, saying that the state had not recorded accurate data for people who had received multiple Covid-19 tests.

Rather than recording the date of a person’s most recent test, the state automatically recorded the result — whether positive or negative — as occurring on the date when the person was first tested.

Mr. Garrett said the state would update its public Covid-19 dashboard today with the corrected data. As a result, he said, nearly 80 percent of counties will see a net decrease in their current 14-day positivity rate, and the remaining counties will see their current 14-day positivity rates increase by less than 1 percent, on average.

The error came to public light this week after Dana Jones, a nurse practitioner in Iowa City, noticed irregularities in the state’s Covid-19 data and alerted the state and media outlets.


South Africa’s virus response is floundering amid allegations of corruption and fraud.

South Africa, Africa’s economic powerhouse, responded to the pandemic by announcing the largest relief effort in the country’s history.

But the undertaking has been dogged by allegations of widespread corruption and mismanagement, undermining confidence in a government that had initially received international acclaim for its response to the pandemic. The governing African National Congress party imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and introduced a raft of social measures and an economic stimulus package to mitigate the devastating economic fallout.

That relief effort has now become a source of embarrassment for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected on a platform of stamping out corruption. He has been forced to reassure the public that aid will be delivered, and that those aiming to profit from it — including members of his own party — would be punished.

The scandal, which has dominated airwaves and talk shows in recent weeks, includes allegations that government leaders and politically connected cronies have siphoned off money meant for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and that local councilors have stymied food distribution efforts by policing deliveries.

“Never in our history have we seen such a huge request for food,” said Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Gift of Givers, a nongovernmental organization that has distributed relief for nearly three decades. “It’s not only a request, it’s a pleading, it’s a sobbing, it’s a crying.”

In other developments around the world:

Los Angeles cuts power at influencers’ house after they threw large parties.

Credit…Gotpap/Bauer-Griffin, via GC Images

The City of Los Angeles cut the power at a Hollywood Hills mansion rented by the TikTok stars Bryce Hall, Noah Beck and Blake Gray on Wednesday in response to parties held at the residence amid the coronavirus crisis.

Mr. Hall hosted a party for his 21st birthday on Aug. 14; footage from the event posted to Instagram shows dozens of people crowded together in one room. After neighbors called in noise complaints, the event was shut down by the Los Angeles Police Department.

That party took place at a rental home in Encino, not the Hollywood Hills home where the power was turned off on Wednesday, though Mr. Hall has hosted parties there, too. (Mr. Hall declined to comment for this article.)

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles mayor’s office confirmed that the city had cut the power at Mr. Hall’s residence. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the city had been authorized to disconnect utilities, which include water and gas.

“Despite several warnings, this house has turned into a nightclub in the hills, hosting large gatherings in flagrant violation of our public health orders,” Mr. Garcetti said in the statement. “The city has now disconnected utilities at this home to stop these parties that endanger our community.”

It was not clear whether senators, currently scattered across the country until early September for the annual summer recess, will vote on the measure anytime soon.

Federal Reserve officials have emphasized the need for continuing economic assistance. Minutes from a meeting last month show that a major point of discussion was the importance of additional fiscal policy support — in other words, money from Congress — which Fed officials noted was “uncertain” in the short term.

The July 28-29 meeting took place just before government support programs lapsed, including enhanced unemployment benefits. More than two weeks later, it remains unclear whether and when additional government support for newly unemployed Americans and struggling businesses will materialize.

Ms. Pelosi called House members back early from their summer recess to vote Saturday on legislation addressing changes to the Postal Service and providing $25 billion to the beleaguered agency, and dozens of House lawmakers have signed on to a letter asking for a second vote on Saturday, on legislation that would revive the $600 weekly federal benefit.

A fishing boat carries direct evidence of immunity.

A fishing vessel that left Seattle in May returned with an unexpected catch: the first direct evidence in humans that antibodies to the coronavirus can thwart infection.

More than 100 crew members aboard the American Dynasty were stricken by the infection over 18 days at sea. But only three sailors, all of whom initially carried antibodies, remained virus-free, according to a new report.

Although the study is small, it addresses one of the most important questions in the pandemic: whether the immune response to one bout with the virus protects against reinfection.

“Knowing the answer to this question is critical for vaccine design and epidemiology,” tweeted Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and one of the study’s authors.

The American Dynasty carried 113 men and nine women. All crew members had been tested for both virus and antibodies as part of a routine screening before setting sail. (The researchers did not have access to the results from two members.)

The trawler returned to shore after 18 days at sea when a crew member became ill enough to need hospitalization. The sailors were tested for the presence of virus and antibodies again and for up to 50 days after their return.

The three sailors who were confirmed to carry neutralizing antibodies did not test positive for the virus during the course of the study; 103 of the remaining 117 became infected.

“Just looking at the numbers, it becomes clear that it’s unlikely that all of these three people were protected by chance,” said Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

U.S. health officials announce nationwide sewage testing for the virus.

Federal health officials announced a nationwide plan on Monday to begin testing sewage for the virus, as a potential measure of where the virus is spreading and at what rate. Infected people can pass the virus in their feces, and scientists are able to detect its levels in samples of wastewater from local sewage treatment centers.

Donated by people who have survived the disease, antibody-rich plasma is considered safe. President Trump has hailed it as a “beautiful ingredient” in the veins of people who have survived Covid-19.

But clinical trials have not proved whether plasma can help people fighting the coronavirus.

Several top health officials — led by Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and including Dr. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Lane — urged their colleagues last week to hold off, citing recent data from the country’s largest plasma study, run by the Mayo Clinic. They thought the study’s data was not strong enough to warrant an emergency approval.

Plasma, the pale yellow liquid left over after blood is stripped of its red and white cells, has been the subject of months of intense enthusiasm from scientists, celebrities and Mr. Trump, part of the administration’s push for coronavirus treatments as a stopgap while pharmaceutical companies race to complete dozens of clinical trials for vaccines.

Reporting was contributed by Sarah Almukhtar, Peter Baker, Alan Blinder, Alexander Burns, Benedict Carey, Choe Sang-Hun, Lynsey Chutel, Emily Cochrane, Nick Corasaniti, Thomas Erdbrink, Richard Fausset, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Sheri Fink, Jacey Fortin, Katie Glueck, Joseph Goldstein, Jason Gutierrez, Anemona Hartocollis, Isayen Herrera, John Ismay, Mike Ives, Jennifer Jett, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Sharon LaFraniere, Taylor Lorenz, Veronica Majerol, Apoorva Mandavilli, Alex Marshall, Jonathan Martin, Patricia Mazzei, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Nagourney, Eric Nagourney, Jack Nicas, Elisabetta Povoledo, Frances Robles, Anna Schaverien, Christopher F. Schuetze, Eliza Shapiro, Jeanna Smialek, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Sheyla Urdaneta, Noah Weiland and Elaine Yu.


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