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California on Thursday became the first state to surpass 600,000 reported coronavirus cases since the virus arrived at the beginning of the year, a New York Times database shows. With more than 10,800 fatalities, the state now ranks third in the country for the worst death toll, behind New York and New Jersey, which were overwhelmed with cases in the spring but have since managed to contain the virus’s spread.
Along with the Sun Belt states, California has been among the hardest hit in the summer resurgence of the virus, but the picture in California appears to have begun improving lately. Citing a 19 percent decline in the number of people hospitalized over the past two weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday that the state was “turning the corner on this pandemic.”
By far the most populous state in the country, California has not been among the most severely affected states by the virus on a per-capita basis: It ranks 20th in cases and 28th in deaths when gauged that way, according to the Times database.
After California’s disease reporting system broke down on July 25, the omission of around 300,000 files from the state’s main database muddied the picture of the virus’s progression in the state. But that problem has now been rectified, state officials say, and the higher numbers of cases reported this week are a result of entering the backlog of cases into the system.
California has seesawed through the pandemic. It was the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, back in mid-March when it was reporting about 116 new cases a day, and it came to be seen as a national role model for how to confront the pandemic.
But when the state started to reopen two months later, it was logging an average of 1,833 new cases a day — and over the past week, the daily figure has averaged around 8,000, including the backlogged cases.
Public health officials have said the state reopened too soon. In an effort to contain the spread, Gov. Newsom issued a statewide mask order on June 18, followed two weeks later by an order to close bars and indoor dining down again. Those settings have proved to be super-spreader sites in several other states.
As the new school year has started across the state, most districts have stuck to online instruction.
The communities with the highest rates of new cases relative to their populations all lie along the border with Mexico or on the Gulf Coast: Brownsville-Harlingen, Eagle Pass, Rio Grande City, Corpus Christi and Laredo, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Four of the five metro areas with the worst death rates in the country over the last two weeks were also in the South Texas border region.
The numbers underscore the virulence of the virus in Texas, where officials have struggled to both keep the state open and curb infection. More than 300 deaths were announced in the state on Wednesday, and the state is approaching a total death toll of 10,000.
Representative Filemon B. Vela Jr., a Democrat whose district includes Brownsville and Harlingen, said that in late June, he did not know anyone who had the virus. Now, he said, he knows hundreds. “In one day, I had four people who I knew die,” Mr. Vela said.
In Laredo, hospitals have been at or near capacity every day. The state turned a local Red Roof Inn into a 106-bed temporary hospital for coronavirus patients with mild cases, but local leaders have been urging officials to allow patients with more serious cases in.
“We see an unprecedented amount of death,” said Dr. Victor Treviño, the top health official in Laredo, adding, “When the state opened, that’s when we saw the infection rate increase dramatically.”
Mr. Vela and other congressional Democrats in Texas have criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the state’s reopening. When Mr. Abbott, a Republican, reopened the state in phases beginning May 1, he lifted the state’s stay-at-home order and prohibited local officials from adopting their own. After cases increased, Mr. Abbott paused the reopening, ordered bars to close and issued a mask mandate for most Texans.
“Shutting down the bars isn’t enough,” said Mr. Vela, who called on the governor on Thursday to issue stay-at-home orders in hard-hit counties or allow local officials to put them in place. On Thursday, Mr. Abbott met with officials in the West Texas city of Lubbock and warned the public about what he called “Covid fatigue.” In remarks to reporters, he urged Texans to continue to wear masks, though he was without one as he spoke at an indoor news conference.
“If people do not continue to, in a very disciplined way, maintain the highest level of standards, what you will see is an acceleration of the expansion of Covid-19,” the governor said.
Efforts to reach an agreement on another pandemic stimulus package could get even tougher after weekly new jobless claims fell below one million for the first time since March and the federal budget deficit continued to hit record highs, reaching $2.8 trillion in July — two major elements that could shift the negotiating landscape.
Republicans and Democrats have been at odds over how much to spend on another round of stimulus aid, with Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, pushing for at least $2 trillion and the White House insisting on staying around $1 trillion.
Democrats have insisted that much more than $1 trillion is needed for humanitarian and economic reasons. Republicans have objected to that price tag, with some lawmakers and White House officials saying the economy is beginning to recover and doesn’t need that level of support and that the United States cannot afford to keep piling on debt.
Those positions could further harden given that weekly jobless claims, which had been above one million for months, fell below that number last week, with 963,000 people filing first-time claims for benefits under regular state unemployment programs. On Thursday, Ms. Pelosi doubled down on the Democrats’ position, saying that they would not agree to a stimulus package unless it provided at least $2 trillion of additional aid.
Ms. Pelosi also said she did not plan to deliver her convention speech from Washington, signaling that she did not expect in-person negotiations in the coming days.
The Treasury Department said on Wednesday that the budget deficit had reached a historic high of $2.8 trillion, in large part because of spending from the first $2.2 trillion pandemic package that lawmakers approved in March.
But economists warn it is too early to withdraw aid, especially given that the virus has not abated and the pace of rehiring has slowed. Millions of Americans remain out of work and much of the spending power from the last stimulus package has run out, including an extra $600 per week in unemployment aid.
“It remains quite stunning that Congress has yet to agree on a fresh round of relief legislation with so many Americans hurting financially,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economist at Bankrate.com.
In other U.S. news:
The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Rhode Island to make voting by mail easier in the November election. The court rejected a request from Republicans that it block a lower court’s order, which had suspended a requirement that absentee ballots be completed in front of witnesses or a notary.
Hawaii, one of two states that has seen sustained increases in cases in recent days, on Thursday announced more than 350 new cases, its single-day record. Illinois is the other state with sustained increases. North Dakota also broke its record for cases in a single day, with 201.
Five months after AMC Theatres closed all its U.S. cinemas — crowded indoor spaces not being the best places to be during a pandemic — the company announced that it would reopen more than 100 theaters across the country on Aug. 20. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the company said it would price all movies that day at 15 cents, so “moviegoers can again enjoy the magic of the big screen at 1920 ticket prices.” Twitter users were less than thrilled by the gimmick. “Only 15¢ for the chance to catch a deadly virus!” one wrote. “Bargain of a lifetime.”
The country is not where it should be in terms of staving off the pandemic, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on Tuesday.
“Bottom line is, I’m not pleased with how things are going,” he told the ABC News journalist Deborah Roberts at a National Geographic panel.
Describing himself as “quite exhausted,” Dr. Fauci said that disparities between the ways different states were handling the situation were keeping the country from bringing it under control once and for all.
In 40 years of leading efforts against H.I.V., Ebola and other viral disease outbreaks, Dr. Fauci said, he had never experienced the rancor that has colored the national conversation on the coronavirus, which he said “has taken on a political tone like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
The Trump administration official in charge of coronavirus testing said on Thursday that the United States was doing enough testing to slow the spread of the virus — an assessment at odds with that of public health experts who say more testing with faster results is necessary.
“We are doing the appropriate amount of testing now to reduce the spread, flatten the curve, save lives,” the official, Adm. Brett M. Giroir, told reporters on a conference call.
Dr. Giroir made his remarks as the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the administration was investing $6.5 million in two commercial laboratories to beef up testing capacity. He argued that the pandemic was moving in the right direction, with the number of hospitalizations declining nationally, and said the test positivity rate — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was under 7 percent.
Some experts disagreed.
“Unfortunately, the United States needs to improve testing to reduce spread and flatten the curve,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While the national positivity rate may be around 7 percent, she noted, “several states have double-digit positivities.”
In June, as the coronavirus crisis appeared to hit a lull in the United States, teachers and parents across the country finally began feeling optimistic about reopening schools in the fall. Going back into the classroom seemed possible. Districts started to pull together plans. Then came a tweet.
“SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” President Trump declared on July 6, voicing a mantra he would repeat again and again in the coming weeks, with varying degrees of threat, as he sought to jump-start the nation’s flagging economy.
Around the same time, caseloads in much of the country started to climb again. In the weeks since, hundreds of districts have reversed course and decided to start the school year with remote instruction.
By some estimates, at least half of the nation’s children will now spend a significant portion of the fall, or longer, learning in front of their laptops.
Rising infection rates were clearly the major driver of the move to continue remote learning. But Mr. Trump’s often bellicose demands for reopening classrooms helped harden the view of many educators that it would be unsafe.
“If you had told me that Trump was doing this as a favor to the schools-must-not-open crowd, I’d believe you,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Indeed, as the president has pushed for schools to reopen, parents have largely moved in the other direction. A recent Washington Post poll found that parents disapprove of Mr. Trump’s handling of school reopening by a two-thirds majority. And a new Gallup poll shows that fewer parents want their children to return to school buildings now than did in the spring.
Across the country, tension among unions, school officials, local authorities and governors over who should call the shots has led to mixed messages about whether students will be attending in-person classes, with many districts only weeks, or even days, away from scheduled reopenings.
On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all of New York City’s roughly 1,300 public school buildings will have a full-time, certified nurse in place by the time schools are scheduled to reopen. The announcement fulfills a major safety demand made by the teachers’ union. The union has also demanded that the city upgrade outdated ventilation systems and create a clearer protocol for testing and tracing in schools.
N.C.A.A. President Mark Emmert announced Thursday that Division I fall sports championships excluding football would be canceled.
The championships were not explicitly dropped for health and safety reasons, but because there were fewer than the benchmark 50 percent of teams to compete in sports like women’s volleyball, soccer, cross country and men’s water polo. The N.C.A.A.’s move followed a spate of conferences deciding this week that they would not play in the fall.
The decision does not affect football, which runs its own championship through the College Football Playoff.
Also Thursday, some key doctors said they were skeptical about college football being played in the fall, a question under consideration by a handful of marquee conferences.
“I mean, I feel like the Titanic,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an executive associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine who is advising the N.C.A.A. about the virus. “We have hit the iceberg and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play.”
Leaders in the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences said Wednesday that they would try to stage football, even as the Big Ten and Pac-12 halted until 2021 at the earliest.
The collateral damage from the pandemic continues: Young adults and Black and Latino people in particular describe rising levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, and increased substance abuse, according to findings reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a survey, U.S. residents reported signs of eroding mental health, in reaction to the toll of coronavirus illnesses and deaths and to the life-altering restrictions imposed by lockdowns.
The researchers argue that the results point to an urgent need for expanded and culturally sensitive services for mental health and substance abuse. The online survey was completed by 5,470 people in late June. The prevalence of anxiety symptoms was three times as high as those reported in the second quarter of 2019, and depression was four times as high.
The impact was felt most keenly by young adults ages 18 to 24. According to Mark Czeisler, a researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, nearly 63 percent had symptoms of anxiety or depression that they attributed to the pandemic and nearly a quarter had started or increased their uses of substances to cope with their emotions.
Overall, nearly 41 percent reported symptoms of at least one adverse reaction, ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Nearly 11 percent said they had suicidal thoughts in the month leading up to the survey, with the greatest clusters being among Black and Latino people, essential workers and unpaid caregivers for adults. Men were more likely to express such feelings than women were.
The researchers, who represent a joint effort largely between Monash University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said the symptoms were less pronounced in older groups.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said on Thursday that he was abandoning a lawsuit against city officials in Atlanta over the city’s attempt to require mask-wearing and resume tighter coronavirus precautions. But the move did not signal that the governor had stopped fighting the city’s moves or that he had reached any kind of detente with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta.
In place of the lawsuit, Governor Kemp said he would issue a new executive order this week that will probably forbid city governments from requiring businesses to make their customers wear face masks. But he was also expected to lift an earlier order forbidding cities from issuing mask mandates for public places.
The judge handling the lawsuit had ordered the governor and the mayor to try to negotiate a settlement, but the talks did not succeed. “Unfortunately, the mayor has made it clear that she will not agree to a settlement that safeguards the rights of private property owners in Georgia,” Mr. Kemp said in a statement on Thursday. “Given this stalemate in negotiations, we will address this very issue in the next executive order.”
Mr. Kemp, a Republican, had been criticized for moving slowly to issue a statewide stay-at-home order when the coronavirus first started spreading, and then starting to reopen the state prematurely while the virus remained uncontrolled.
Ms. Bottoms, a Democrat, has supported more stringent measures to curb the spread of the virus. (She also tested positive for the virus herself over the summer.) On July 10, citing a surge in new cases in Atlanta, she ordered the city to return to Phase One of its reopening plan, which mandates that people cover their faces in public and stay at home except for essential trips. Restaurants and retail stores would have to go back to takeout and curbside pickup only.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. called on Thursday for governors to require mask wearing in their states, saying that he believed that all Americans should wear face coverings to fight the spread of the virus.
“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum,” said Mr. Biden, the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democrats.
The remarks came after Mr. Biden and Kamala Harris, the presumptive vice-presidential nominee, met with public health officials in Delaware for a briefing on the virus — yet another signal of their intention to make the pandemic a major part of their effort to unseat President Trump.
So far, more than 30 states have enacted mask requirements, following public health guidance that covering mouths and noses could reduce the spread of the virus. The mandates have been met with resistance from some, including a number of Republican leaders who see the rules as infringements on personal liberty.
Mr. Biden countered by saying wearing a mask was a necessary civic duty.
“It’s not about your rights,” he said. “It’s about your responsibilities as an American.”
Ms. Harris, who on Wednesday criticized Mr. Trump’s management of the pandemic, supported Mr. Biden’s comments.
“That’s what real leadership looks like,” she said.
The two did not answer questions from reporters.
The first coronavirus infections were reported on Thursday in one of Greece’s overcrowded camps for migrants on Aegean islands, prompting officials to lock down the camp until Aug. 25.
A 35-year-old man from Yemen living at the Vial camp on Chios tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday night, a Greek Migration Ministry official said, and a woman employed at the camp by a branch of the European Asylum Support Office tested positive on Thursday.
The man, who arrived from neighboring Turkey in September, has been hospitalized on the island with mild symptoms. Another 25 camp residents believed to have been in contact with him have been quarantined, the official said. Contact tracing for the woman was still in progress.
The Chios infections are not the first in a Greek migrant camp — dozens of cases were reported in April at three facilities on the mainland. But they are the first in an island camp, where overcrowding is the most intense.
Greece has generally weathered the pandemic better than many of its neighbors, recording around 6,000 cases since late February and just over 200 deaths. But daily case reports have increased sharply in recent weeks, prompting the authorities to reintroduce some restrictions. The country reported 262 cases on Wednesday, its highest figure so far; only 29 of them appeared to be linked to foreign arrivals.
In other news from around the world:
India has now reported the fourth most coronavirus-related deaths in the world after the United States, Brazil and Mexico. It surpassed Britain on Thursday. The country has recorded at least 47,033 deaths so far, according to a New York Times database. Britain’s total as of Thursday morning was 46,706.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who offered this week to be “injected in public” with Russia’s coronavirus vaccine to allay concerns about its safety, may not be cleared to do so until May 1, 2021, his government said on Thursday. A spokesman for Mr. Duterte said the president would not take part in Russian-financed clinical trials scheduled to begin in the Philippines in October.
Canada has established a system to divert fresh food that would otherwise go unused because of restaurant shutdowns to food banks and other relief agencies. Marie-Claude Bibeau, the agriculture minister, said on Thursday that the project would prevent about 12 million kilograms of food, including eggs, meat, seafood and vegetables, from going to waste.
Officials in multiple provinces in China said the virus had been found on packaging of seafood imports from Ecuador, and Shenzhen said a sample of frozen chicken wings from Brazil had tested positive. Officials in China only tested for coronavirus genetic material on the imported food and packaging, but it is unclear if there was infectious virus and there is no evidence to suggest that people can get the virus from food.
A 68-year-old woman in the Chinese province of Hubei, where the global outbreak was first detected, tested positive again this month after recovering from a case of the virus recorded in February, officials said. Another man who had recovered from an infection in April was also found to be an asymptomatic carrier in Shanghai this week. The two cases have revived concerns about mysterious second-time infections that have baffled experts since the early days of the pandemic, with some blaming testing flaws. Other experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the virus would strike a person twice within a short window, and that reports of reinfection may instead be cases of drawn-out illness.
The British government wants to appoint a “head of pandemic preparedness” to review the government’s approach and to act on “lessons learned” from the coronavirus crisis, according to a job posting on an internal website that was reported by British news outlets. Britain is among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and many experts, lawmakers and health care professionals say the government’s handling of the situation is to blame.
A beach house, a suburban home, a home without children, a home filled with family: These days, everyone wants something that someone else has. You are not alone if you are filled with “quarantine envy.” Here are some ways to deal with it.
Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Alan Blinder, Ben Casselman, Damien Cave, Emily Cochrane, James Dobbins, Manny Fernandez, Katie Glueck, Michael Gold, Jason Gutierrez, Jan Hoffman, Mike Ives, Thomas Kaplan, Niki Kitsantonis, Apoorva Mandavilli, Elian Peltier, Amy Qin, Rick Rojas, Christopher F. Schuetze, Eliza Shapiro, Mitch Smith, Deborah Solomon, Serena Solomon, Eileen Sullivan, Billy Witz, Lauren Wolfe, Sameer Yasir and Elaine Yu.
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