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Live Global Coronavirus News: Antibody Puzzle Complicates Immunity Question

2020-07-26 19:39:16

The U.S. testing czar admits test results take too long, as some state officials worry about backlogs.

Federal, state and local officials on Sunday appeared to agree on one thing: Test results are taking too long.

But they gave conflicting assessments of the U.S. response to recent spikes in coronavirus cases, which have severely strained testing nationwide and led to renewed shortages of supplies and weeklong backlogs at major labs.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant health secretary overseeing the national coronavirus testing response, said the country was performing enough testing to “achieve the goals we need to achieve.”

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Giroir acknowledged that turnaround times were too long. But he asserted that while testing was still not widely available to anyone who wanted it — despite past claims from Mr. Trump that it would be — it was available to those who needed it.

Testing is considered crucial to understanding and stopping the spread of the coronavirus. When turnaround times extend beyond several days, it can render the information useless since those tested may have spread the virus to other people by the time their results are back.

Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, skirted questions about the administration’s early missteps by suggesting that medical advancements, not masks, would be the only way to end the pandemic. “Hopefully it is American ingenuity that will allow for therapies and vaccines to ultimately conquer this,” he said on the ABC program “This Week.”

The federal government said Sunday that it would pay the testing company Hologic up to $7.6 million to expand the number of coronavirus tests its machines can run by two million tests a month. The expanded capacity won’t be available until January of next year.

Some state officials voiced apprehensions about the federal response to the pandemic. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a Democrat, said in an appearance on “This Week” that her state was “at the mercy of what’s going on around the county.”

New Mexico set a single-day record on Thursday, reporting 335 new virus cases.

“There is no national strategy,” Ms. Grisham said. “I still spend most of my days chasing testing supplies for our state. It is the worst abdication of a national response and responsibility to protect Americans I have ever seen in my government career.”

Thirteen shelters were opening on Sunday in Honolulu, including the Hawaii Convention Center, which can hold 1,600 people with social distancing, according to Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Gov. David Ige said the authorities would monitor capacity at the shelters and open more if necessary.

The American Red Cross said it would supply its 300 shelter volunteers with personal protective equipment. City workers in Honolulu were also being asked to volunteer in the shelters, the mayor said.

“We do understand the concern of these city workers,” Mr. Caldwell said, “and we’re asking them as city servants to help with the need at this time.”

In one way, the pandemic has reduced the potential need for shelter space. Strict quarantine rules have greatly reduced the number of tourists in the state.

As of Sunday morning, the storm was 145 miles east of Kahului and moving west-northwest at 16 m.p.h. It was expected to remain a Category 1 storm and pass directly over or dangerously close to Kahoolawe, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau islands over the next 24 hours.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said he would like to see lawmakers act this week to extend and alter the unemployment program, give tax credits to businesses and grant employers new liability protections — while setting aside a long list of other objectives, including Democrats’ priorities.

“Perhaps we put that forward, get that passed as we can negotiate on the rest of the bill in the weeks to come,” Mr. Meadows said on the ABC program “This Week.”

The proposal, which was echoed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, reflected Republicans’ desire to prevent the program from lapsing at a time when there are signs the nation’s economy is once again weakening amid a resurgence of cases.

Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a broader $1 trillion relief proposal, with different factions of the party at odds over what to priorities and how much to spend.

But Democrats have already made clear they are not interested in a narrower bill. They passed their own proposal in May, with a cost of $3 trillion, and view the time pinch now as a problem of Republicans’ making. The Democrats’ proposal includes money to bail out states and cities, fund the $600 federal jobless benefit and infuse billions more into the nation’s health care system.

“We’ve been anxious to negotiate for two months and 10 days,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” She said Congress should not leave town for its annual August recess until a deal is struck.

And the two sides have very different views about how to handle even the narrow set of issues identified by the White House. Republicans want to replace the $600 flat weekly payments with a plan that would ensure that workers received roughly 70 percent of lost wages — a change Democrats are unlikely to endorse.

And Democrats strongly oppose an effort by Republicans to give many employers new protections from lawsuits.

The backup proposal came as Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Meadows were working to hammer out the final details on Sunday of their party’s broader $1 trillion relief plan with Senate staff before a planned Monday introduction.

The Republicans’ plan is expected to include another round of $1,200 checks for individuals, $105 billion for schools and more money for testing and contact tracing.

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said on Sunday that the White House was also looking to include an extension on the moratorium on evictions that just expired.

One of the great mysteries of the coronavirus pandemic has been the fact that many stricken people have later discovered that they don’t seem to have antibodies, the protective proteins generated in response to an infection.

This has led to concerns that people may be susceptible to repeat infections.

The problem, writes The Times’s Apoorva Mandavilli, lies in the antibody tests.

Most commercial antibody tests offer crude yes-no answers. The tests are notorious for delivering false positives — results indicating that someone has antibodies when they do not.

But the volume of coronavirus antibodies is known to drop sharply once the acute illness ends, and it has become increasingly clear that tests may miss antibodies that are present at low levels.

Moreover, some tests — including those made by Abbott and Roche and offered by Quest Labs and LabCorp — are designed to detect a subtype of antibodies that doesn’t confer immunity and may wane even faster than the kind that can destroy the virus.

But the declining antibodies indicated by commercial tests don’t necessarily mean declining immunity, several experts said.

“Whatever your level is today, if you get infected, your antibody titers are going to go way up,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University, referring to the levels of antibodies in the blood. “The virus will never even have a chance the second time around.”

A small number of people may not produce any antibodies to the coronavirus. But even then, they will have “cellular immunity,” which includes T cells that learn to identify and destroy the virus. Virtually everyone infected with the coronavirus seems to develop T-cell responses, according to several recent studies.

As in years past, there will be six moments of silence to mark the moments when the two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the time each tower fell, and the moments when one plane hit the Pentagon and another crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers onboard fought against the hijackers.

“Around the world, people are responding to the Covid-19 crisis with compassion, generosity, and a sense of community, much like they did in the aftermath of 9/11,” Ms. Greenwald wrote. “These expressions of connection and empathy give us a sense of hope, even in the face of shared grief.”

Global roundup

Britain’s abrupt rule that travelers from Spain isolate for 14 days surprised even the transport minister.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the decision, reversing a recent relaxation of restrictions, had been made after a review of data received on Friday that showed a large jump in the number of Spanish cases.

“We took the decision as swiftly as we could,” Mr. Raab told Sky News.

The Scottish government, which lifted its quarantine rules for Spain just a few days ago, said it would reimpose them, too.

Britain’s biggest tour operator, Tui, said it was canceling all its vacations to mainland Spain until Aug. 9, though several airlines, including British Airways, were still offering flights. Airline officials expressed the frustration of a devastated sector.

“​This is, sadly, yet another blow for British holidaymakers and cannot fail to have an impact on an already troubled aviation industry,” British Airways said in a statement, adding that the change was “throwing thousands of Britons’ travel plans into chaos.”

In other news from around the globe:

North Korea declares ‘maximum’ emergency after discovering what it says might be its first case.

Editors and account managers at the Time & Life Building in Midtown Manhattan could once walk out through the modernist lobby and into a thriving ecosystem that existed in support of the offices above. They could shop for designer shirts or shoes, slide into a steakhouse corner booth for lunch and then return to their desks without ever crossing the street.

To approach this block today is like visiting a relative in the hospital. The building, rebranded a few years ago and renovated to fit 8,000 workers, now has just 500 a day showing up. The steakhouse dining rooms are dark.

While other neighborhoods are rushing to reopen, Midtown Manhattan — the muscular power center of New York City for a century — remains stuck in a purgatorial Phase Zero, offering a sign of what may lie in store for business districts across the country.

Ahmed Ahmed, a hot dog vendor looking over what should be prime real estate outside Radio City Music Hall at West 50th Street, said he used to sell 400 hot dogs a day. Now? “Maybe 10,” he said.

Subway data tells a story just as stark.

Consider the area’s Rockefeller Center station, a major stop for four train lines. Last year on June 24, a Monday, there were 62,312 MetroCard turnstile swipes as riders entered the station. On the comparable Monday this year, June 22, the number of swipes was 8,032, a staggering 87 percent decrease.

Robert A.M. Stern, the modern traditionalist architect whose firm has executed many prominent projects in Manhattan and around the globe, said the past was a hopeful indicator in this uncertain time.

“New York survived the late ’70s, and everybody thought the city was over, rampant crime, near bankruptcy,” he said. “It survives the market crashes of ’87 and ’89, it survives the dot-com crash of 2000 or so. It survived 2008. So it will survive. But each time, each one of those moments probably can be traced in relationship to new ideas on how to occupy existing buildings or how to occupy new buildings.”

“I’ve never struggled like that before,” she said.

Elaine Roberts, a bagger at a supermarket, tried to be careful. She put on gloves and stopped riding the bus to work, instead relying on her father to drive her. She wore masks — in space-themed fabrics stitched by her sister — as she stacked products on shelves, helped people to their cars and retrieved carts from the parking lot.

But many customers at the Randalls store in a Houston suburb did not wear them, she noticed, even as coronavirus cases began rising in early June. Gov. Greg Abbott, who had pushed to reopen businesses in Texas, was refusing to make masks mandatory and blocked local officials from enforcing mask requirements.

Ms. Roberts, 35, who has autism and lives with her parents, got sick first. Then her father, Paul, and mother, Sheryl, were hospitalized. While no one can be certain how Elaine Roberts was infected, her older sister, Sidra Roman, blamed grocery customers who she felt had put her family in danger.

“Wearing a piece of cloth, it’s a little uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s a lot less uncomfortable than ventilators, dialysis lines, all of those things that have had to happen to my father. And it’s not necessarily you that’s going to get sick and get hurt.”

What happened to the Robertses is in many ways the story of Texas, one of the nation’s hot spots. For weeks, politicians were divided over keeping the economy open, citizens were polarized about wearing masks, and doctors were warning that careless behavior could imperil others.

Nonprofits range from big-city hospitals to thrift shops that support local charities, and they are being upended by the pandemic in different ways. Many cannot fulfill their functions because of shutdowns and social distancing. For food pantries and free clinics, the economic upheaval has created a surge in clients.

“People who used to donate to nonprofits are now standing in line to receive services, which tells you while demand is soaring the resources are plummeting,” said Tim Delaney, the president and chief executive of the National Council of Nonprofits.

Hoping to prevent devastating new cutbacks, large nonprofits like the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross are asking for federal grants and loans.

A group of 3,800 nonprofits recently sent a letter asking congressional leaders to increase the tax deduction for charitable contributions. They also asked lawmakers to expand the Paycheck Protection Program and other lending programs to include larger nonprofits, including some Y.M.C.A. chapters, which are left out if they have more than 500 employees.

In the first wave of the outbreak, the 2,600 national outposts of the Y.M.C.A. transformed into civic centers, caring for the children of emergency medical technicians, doctors and other essential workers when day care centers closed down, as well as feeding the poor when schools that offered meal programs shut their doors.

Now the Y.M.C.A. finds itself in financial jeopardy just as it is needed most.

Steering a course through the ethics of the coronavirus.

Covid-19 has created a whole new set of moral quandaries. Here are a few ways to consider those issues.

Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Stephen Castle, Melina Delkic, Nicholas Fandos, Marie Fazio, Sheri Fink, Jacey Fortin, Rebecca Halleck, Jennifer Jett, Nicholas Kulish, Ernesto Londoño, Juliet Macur, Apoorva Mandavilli, Raphael Minder, Christina Morales, Adam Nagourney, Bryan Pietsch, Alan Rappeport, Katie Rogers, Jordan Salama, Choe Sang-Hun, Katie Thomas, Michael Wilson and Mihir Zaveri.


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