Covid-19 News: Live Updates – The New York Times

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Backed by U.S. federal funds, new virus tests are hitting the market.

With the pandemic still raging as fall approaches, the government’s efforts to support development and deployment of a variety of testing methods are a rare if belated bright spot amid widespread failures to contain the coronavirus.

In the latest round of U.S. government backing, the National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday that it was providing nine more companies with $123.3 million from a $2.5 billion pot of money allocated last spring by the stimulus bill to support testing. That will bring the total amount disbursed so far by the N.I.H. to $372 million across 16 companies.

The goal is to support production of a broad spectrum of tests, making them more widely available and perhaps ultimately as easy to use as a home pregnancy test. Tests must show that they meet the Food and Drug Administration’s standards for safety and accuracy before they can be sold.

“It’s going to be a wonderful competition,” Dr. Francis S. Collins, the N.I.H. director, said in an interview on Tuesday evening.

Yet even as the government helps rush new tests to market, the administration continues to issue conflicting — and sometimes flatly contradictory — messages about how many and what types of tests are needed, when they should be administered and to whom.

President Trump has long derided testing, complaining that it drives up the number of confirmed cases. The lack of a clear national strategy has confused the public, deeply frustrated public health officials and befuddled pharmaceutical executives.

But as testing options have multiplied, easing some of the shortages and laboratory bottlenecks that hampered the early response to the pandemic, universities, employers, state and local governments and other institutions have been increasingly filling in some of the vacuum left by the administration with their own testing plans.

A growing number of businesses — ranging from Soupergirl, a small company in Washington, D.C., with 30 employees that makes vegan soups, to Amazon, the world’s biggest retailer — are testing their workers.

In a recent interview, Dr. Bruce J. Tromberg, who directs the N.I.H.’s test development program, estimated that the United States needed to test about six million people a day, citing reports by experts at the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations. Without federal assistance, he said, companies would at best produce only half that number by the end of the year.

The National Basketball Association allowed Yale University scientists access to its players for its research identifying the coronavirus in saliva samples. The Food and Drug Administration last month granted emergency use authorization for Yale’s testing method, which aimed to keep the cost to less than $10 per test. Anne Wyllie, an associate research scientist working on the project, said more than 200 laboratories had contacted Yale about it.

Among those interested is Indiana University, which is putting in place a testing program for its 120,000 students, faculty and staff. Arriving students were greeted last month with rapid-result, nasal swab tests before they could move into their dorms. Those who tested positive were either sent home or housed in an isolation dorm.

“We figured this out ourselves,” said Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, an associate dean at the university’s medical school, who helped devise the program. Federal guidelines were of little use, he said.

Trump administration officials like Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the testing czar and an assistant secretary of health, say they want states and localities to create their own testing plans that fit their specific needs rather than to be forced to follow federal dictates. But many experts complain that the lack of federal decision-making — including how many tests a day the United States should aim for — is an impediment in the nation’s battle against the virus, which so far has killed more than 184,000 people and infected more than six million.

“Let’s not just say we are ramping up and hope we get there. Let’s have a goal in mind,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, the director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under former President George W. Bush. “It’s not just a matter of getting the tests to market.”

In planning documents sent last week to public health agencies around the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described preparations for two coronavirus vaccines simply referred to as Vaccine A and Vaccine B.

But the technical details, including the time between doses and storage temperatures, match well with the two vaccines furthest along in U.S. clinical tests, made by Moderna and Pfizer.

Some experts are concerned about what they see as a rushed process. “It’s hard not to see this as a push for a pre-election vaccine,” said Saskia Popescu, an infection prevention epidemiologist in Arizona.

Still, public health experts agree that agencies at all levels of government should urgently prepare for what will eventually be a vast, complex effort to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans.

Here are some answers to some basic questions people may have.

How do these vaccines work?

Moderna and Pfizer are testing a new kind of vaccine that has never before been approved for use by people. It contains genetic molecules called messenger RNA that are injected into muscle cells, which treat them like instructions for building a protein.

How well do they work?

Both vaccines have gone through extensive early tests, but it is not known if they’re safe and effective.

Once designed, vaccines go through four testing stages. In the preclinical stage, researchers test them on animals. For Covid-19, these include hamsters and genetically modified mice, both of which can experience some of the same symptoms as humans.

If these tests yield promising results, then the vaccines go into three phases of clinical trials in people.

Moderna and Pfizer are currently testing their candidates in Phase 3 trials. In their earlier human studies, neither vaccine produced serious side effects. Both vaccines provoked people’s immune systems to make antibodies that can neutralize the coronavirus.

Could a vaccine be approved before clinical trials are completed?

Some federal health officials have said a vaccine could be made available to at least some groups before clinical trials are completed. An independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board is charged with checking in on clinical trials to ensure there are no serious safety issues.

If the vaccine is harming participants, the trial may be ended early. But if it appeared to be working well, the board could decide that it would no longer be ethical to continue giving some participants a placebo and end the trial early.

What have companies said about when their vaccines may be ready?

Pfizer recently said it was “on track” for seeking government review “as early as October 2020.” Moderna has said it expects to complete enrollment in its Phase 3 trial in September, but has not provided an estimate about when the vaccine might be ready for the public.

Federal officials said in May that the first doses of a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca, in partnership with the University of Oxford, could be delivered by October. But AstraZeneca, which recently began Phase 3 trials in the United States, is now saying it could supply the first doses by the end of 2020.

How would a vaccine reach the public?

Normally, vaccine makers would wait for clinical trials to yield definitive results before moving forward with manufacturing. This time, many manufacturers have begun preparing in advance for production, getting money from governments to buffer the risk.

The C.D.C.’s planning documents indicate the extraordinary complexity of distributing vaccines to hundreds of millions of people in a country with a fragmented health care system. Past experiences serve as a warning about how this undertaking can go awry.

When might the first vaccines be distributed?

The C.D.C. told public health agencies last week that limited doses may be available beginning in late October or November.

Who will get it first?

In its planning documents, the C.D.C. said certain groups would have priority, beginning with health care workers, essential workers (like police officers or those in critical industries like food production), “national security populations,” and employees and residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

Will these two Covid-19 vaccines be the only ones available?

Probably not. Aside from Moderna and Pfizer, there are 34 other vaccines in clinical trials worldwide. There are over 90 more vaccines confirmed to be in active preclinical testing. Over the next year, clinical trials are planned for 69 of them.

Just weeks into the semester, a growing number of colleges and universities are escalating how they respond to student parties — the so-called superspreader events that flout emergency orders — with punitive measures like suspensions and fraternity sanctions.

The crackdown comes as campuses grapple with rising infections.

One day after it drew acclaim for its twice-weekly testing of students and staff with a saliva-based test it developed, the University of Illinois ordered students on Wednesday to limit in-person activities for two weeks, including small gatherings.

The measures were announced after more than 700 students tested positive for the virus since Aug. 24.

The university said students should leave their rooms only to go to class or work, buy groceries or food, exercise alone, or attend religious services. It attributed the rise in cases to parties and students ignoring quarantine orders, saying it would crack down on violators.

At the University of Missouri, 330 students were facing disciplinary action and 10 Greek houses were placed under a temporary suspension for violations of emergency orders, the Missourian newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The University of South Carolina announced that 15 students had been placed under interim suspension and that six Greek houses had been charged with student conduct violations stemming from parties.

The action came as nearly half of the fraternity and sorority chapter houses in the university’s Greek Village were placed under a 14-day quarantine after some students in them tested positive, administrators said.

On Wednesday, the university, which is in Columbia, S.C., and has about 35,000 students, reported that more than 1,000 students had tested positive for the virus.

A surge in government borrowing in the face of the pandemic recession has put the United States in a position it has not seen since World War II: In order to pay off its national debt this year, the country would need to spend an amount nearly as large as its entire annual economy.

And still, economists and many fiscal hawks are urging lawmakers to borrow even more to fuel the nation’s economic recovery.

The amount of U.S. government debt has grown to nearly outpace the size of the nation’s economy in the 2020 fiscal year and is set to exceed it next year, as the virus downturn saps tax revenues, spurs government spending and necessitates record amounts of federal borrowing, the Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday. Federal debt, as a share of the economy, is now on track to smash America’s World War II-era record by 2023.

The budget office report underscored the scrambled politics of deficits in 2020: It showed debt held by the public climbing to 98 percent of the size of the economy for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Forecasters had previously expected the nation to reach those levels at the end of the decade, a time frame that had already alarmed fiscal hawks in Washington, who warned ballooning deficits would consume federal budgets and chill private investment.

But the virus has upended those predictions, prompting even longtime champions of fiscal prudence to urge lawmakers on Wednesday to keep borrowing more for the time being, in order to help people and businesses survive the lingering pain of a sharp recession and now-slowing recovery.

“We should think and worry about the deficit an awful lot, and we should proceed to make it larger,” said Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in Washington, which has for years pushed lawmakers to take steps to reduce deficits and debt.

The number of U.S. workers filing new state jobless claims remained at a historically high level last week, though it is gradually falling.

The government reported on Thursday that 833,000 workers filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week. An additional 759,000 claims were filed by unemployed freelancers, part-time workers and others who are receiving federal relief under a separate emergency relief program. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On that basis, both totals represented an increase from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted number of new state claims was 881,000.

Overall, more than nine million laid-off workers have been rehired since massive job cuts walloped the economy earlier this year. And most analysts expect that the monthly jobs report, scheduled for release on Friday, will show a dip in August from double-digit unemployment rates.

But the damage has been wide and deep. Altogether, 22 million jobs were lost because of the outbreak, so even with recent hires, “you’re still down 13 million, which on its own is still one of the worst job losses in history,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at the forecasting firm Oxford Economics.

There were modest reductions in new weekly claims through most of August, an encouraging trend. But this week, comparisons to previous announcements from the Labor Department need a flashing “WARNING” signal.

That’s because the department has changed the way it adjusts state jobless claims figures for predictable seasonal patterns, like teachers returning to schools in the fall or temporary holiday workers who are laid off in January.

During the pandemic, claims have been anything but predictable. So the department tweaked its calculations to improve accuracy, but the change in methodology means that the seasonally adjusted numbers released on Thursday are not comparable with those from previous weeks.

As a result, The New York Times is emphasizing unadjusted figures.

In other developments in the United States:

  • Dwayne Johnson, the actor and former wrestler known as the Rock, announced on Instagram on Wednesday that he and his family had recently tested positive. Mr. Johnson said they had become infected around two and a half weeks ago, from “very close family friends.” Mr. Johnson called it “one of the most challenging and difficult things we have ever had to endure as a family,” but added that he and his family were now “on the other end of it” and were healthy and no longer contagious.

  • Art Basel Miami Beach has been canceled for 2020, organizers said Wednesday, citing the uncertainty of the pandemic. The next edition of the art fair, which had been scheduled for Dec. 3 to 6, will now take place from Dec. 2 to 5 next year. Art Basel’s two other annual shows, which were planned for Hong Kong in March and Basel, Switzerland, in September, were canceled earlier this year.

  • The federal Bureau of Prisons plans to reopen its facilities to visitors in October, citing a need for inmates to see friends and family. Visitors will be screened for the virus when they arrive, and other precautionary measures will be in place as well. The bureau began to restrict visitation in late March.

A look at how some American families are struggling to put food on the table.

A shadow of hunger looms over the United States. In the pandemic economy, nearly one in eight households doesn’t have enough to eat. Epic lines at food banks have revealed what was hidden in plain sight: that food insecurity has become a persistent problem for millions of Americans.

Brenda Ann Kenneally set out across the country, from New York to California, beginning in May to capture the routines of Americans who are struggling to feed their families by piecing together various forms of food assistance, community support and ingenuity to make it from one month to the next.

Food insecurity is as much about the threat of deprivation as it is about deprivation itself: A food-insecure life is lived in fear of hunger, and that takes a psychological toll. Like many hardships, this burden falls disproportionately on Black and Hispanic families, who are almost twice as likely to experience food insecurity as white families are.

Here’s one glimpse into their lives:

Troy, N.Y., May 9

Like so many who live at hunger’s edge, the members of the extended Stocklas family — whom Ms. Kenneally has photographed for years — gain and lose food stamps depending on fluctuating employment in an unstable economy. They often have trouble stretching their funds to the end of the month, so they pool resources to provide family-style dinners for all.

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo closed schools statewide, he created a new source of stress for food-insecure families, which often rely on free school lunches to keep their children fed. That made the Stocklas family’s big collective meals all the more crucial.

Moving to combat its worst recession in decades, France unveiled a massive 100 billion euro ($118 billion) stimulus plan Thursday aimed at restoring the battered economy to pre-crisis levels by 2022, handing large tax cuts and hiring subsidies to companies in hopes of stimulating investment and creating jobs.

“We have to learn to live with the virus, and to survive it,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a press briefing.

The package, the biggest spending effort in Europe, comes on top of nearly €400 billion that President Emmanuel Macron made available to help keep thousands of businesses from going bankrupt and millions of people employed since a nationwide quarantine caused the economy to crater. Growth is expected to contract by 11 percent this year because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

But a new wave of infections is rolling across France, and the prospect of a protracted downturn has prompted the government to try and shield the economy from further damage.

The effort focuses on supply-side stimulus and transitioning to so-called “green” technology across the economy. Industrial companies will get €35 billion in production tax breaks to stimulate investment and job creation, and the state will subsidize industrial development in hard-hit regions.

Around a third of the money will go toward making the nation’s infrastructure more environmentally sound. All told, the government said it hopes to create at least 160,000 new jobs through the stimulus measures next year.

The police arrested a pregnant woman in Australia. Critics said it was an overreach.

Zoe Buhler was fed up with the lockdown in her Australian city. So she created a Facebook event encouraging people to come out and protest this weekend.

Then the police arrived at her door.

Ms. Buhler, 28, livestreamed her arrest in Ballarat on Wednesday, which has been viewed millions of times. In the video, she can be heard expressing disbelief as she tells the officers handcuffing her in her pajamas that she is pregnant, that she has an ultrasound appointment in an hour and that her two children are in the house. When the officers tell her the Facebook post violated laws on incitement, she offers to delete it but to no avail. The officers also told her they had the right to seize her computer and mobile devices.

Ms. Buhler’s arrest has been widely criticized as an overreach of emergency powers enacted to help control the spread of the coronavirus in the state of Victoria, which has seen Australia’s worst outbreak. This week the government extended those powers for another six months.

Frustration is growing in Victoria, where 6.5 million people are in their fifth week of lockdown. In Melbourne, the state capital and Australia’s second-biggest city, has an even more severe lockdown than Victoria’s, with a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., a five-kilometer limit on travel and shopping trips restricted to one person per household per day.

Concerned that the virus could be transmitted among crowds, officials around Australia are trying to put a stop to “Freedom Day,” a set of protests planned for this Saturday that are driven by conspiracy theories.

Ms. Buhler is the fourth person in Victoria to be charged in the past week with incitement related to protests. Those who attend any protests on Saturday can expect a “swift and firm” response from the authorities, the police warned.

Critics said Ms. Buhler’s arrest was a violation of the right to protest. “It should not be happening in a democracy like Australia,” Elaine Pearson, Australia director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

Luke Cornelius, assistant commissioner of the Victoria Police, said Thursday that while the “optics” of the situation did not “look good,” the police had behaved appropriately.

Returning to school this fall has been fraught for parents everywhere. But in Spain, a message from the leader of the Madrid region that all schoolchildren would probably end up with the coronavirus was particularly alarming.

Speaking to a local radio station, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who heads the Madrid region’s government, said Wednesday that it was “probable that all children would get infected, one way or another.”

But, she added, school was probably as safe as any place to be as a child was just as likely to catch Covid-19 during a family weekend gathering, or while out in the park with a friend.

“We don’t know, because the virus is everywhere,” she told esRadio. Ms. Díaz Ayuso did not say what scientific evidence she used to predict that the infection rate would be so high among children.

Madrid is once more the epicenter of Spain’s virus pandemic, accounting for almost one quarter of the 1,830 patients hospitalized in the country in the past week.

In response, Madrid is now requiring testing of all teachers returning to school, as is the case in other regions.

The result on Wednesday was chaotic: huge queues of school staff outside packed test centers forced the testing process to be suspended.

As the situation worsens in Madrid, some other regional leaders have been voicing their concerns about allowing residents from the capital region into their towns.

But Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister, on Thursday ruled out the idea of imposing a lockdown around the Madrid area.

In other developments from around the world:

  • Thailand has gone 100 days without a reported case of local transmission, one of the few major nations to reach that threshold since the pandemic began. But its success in halting the spread of the virus has come at a significant financial cost. Thailand’s last reported case of community transmission was confirmed on May 24. Hundreds of cases have been found since then among residents returning from abroad, but all were detected during the required 14-day quarantine periods. As of Thursday, Thailand had reported 3,425 cases and 58 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

  • India reported 83,883 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, breaking its own global record. It has the world’s third-highest number of cases and deaths after the United States and Brazil.

  • The Czech Republic reported 650 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its highest single-day increase since the virus first appeared in the country in March.

  • Turkey will impose restrictions on weddings and other social events amid a surge in new cases. The daily number of cases was around 1,000 last month, but has reached almost 1,600 in the last week.

  • The Venice Film Festival, the first large movie extravaganza to take place since the pandemic began, opened Wednesday with numerous protective measures in place. The festival area, which is on the Lido island in Venice, has scanners at entrances to take visitors’ temperatures as they pass. Anyone with a temperature above 99.5°F (37.5°C) is denied entry. Masks are worn inside screening spaces and in the open air. Ushers are asking audience members to ensure their noses and mouths are covered, although masks get removed for speeches, news conferences and red carpet appearances. Empty seats separate viewers at screenings, and a new online booking system means places are reserved ahead of time to avoid line congestion. Hand sanitizer is available at building entrances, and there are large red signs reminding people of protective protocols

How do you open an interactive museum in a pandemic? Very carefully.

New York’s first Makeup Museum, an immersive, interactive concept focusing on touch and experimentation, was scheduled to open in May. Its first exhibition, “Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America,” would encourage visitors to take part in experiences like mixing their own makeup or indulging in facials modeled on the ones given to Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo.

Artifacts of that halcyon era, like elaborate compacts or rhinestone-studded lipstick cases, would be available for handling.

Then the pandemic hit.

All museums closed, and have only recently started to reopen, with many new restrictions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, which reopened in late August, only takes timed tickets or reservations and requires masks and temperature checks.

An interactive makeup museum, however, devoted to the idea of applying products to one’s face, seemed like another challenge to figure out altogether.

But on Tuesday, the Makeup Museum opened to the public after a complete rethink of the place. Sampling colors and handling objects were replaced with social distancing rules, enhanced technology and mask requirements.

In addition to the usual creative demands of mounting an exhibit, the curators faced “so much uncertainty, so many more logistical challenges,” said Doreen Bloch, a founder of the museum.

The presentation of “Pink Jungle” was completely overhauled. Gone were any tactile elements that could not be immediately sanitized and the prop-heavy, Instagram-worthy photo stations that have become the hallmark of other new interactive museums like the Museum of Ice Cream and the KGB Espionage Museum.

The “Mix Lab,” an interactive station where guests could create their own take-home beauty elixirs, was scrapped and the exhibition is now “an entirely touchless experience,” Ms. Bloch said.

Reporting was contributed by Liz Alderman, Ilise S. Carter, Patricia Cohen, Ben Casselman, Jacey Fortin, Ethan Hauser, Choe Sang-Hun, Jennifer Jett, Sharon LaFraniere, Raphael Minder, Eleanor Stanford, Isabella Kwai, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Neil Vigdor, Allyson Waller, Katherine J. Wu and Carl Zimmer.



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