Here’s what you need to know:
Trump urges governors to let houses of worship reopen as the C.D.C. suggests limits.
President Trump stepped into the culture wars again on Friday, taking the side of some religious leaders against governors who have moved slowly in reopening houses of worship amid the pandemic.
Without any clear authority to do so, Mr. Trump said that he was calling houses of faith, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, “essential services” and urged governors to reopen them “right now.” After he spoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a number of long-delayed guidelines with suggestions for steps that houses of worship can take to curb the spread of the virus.
“Today I am identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogue and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Mr. Trump said at a hastily scheduled briefing at the White House on Friday. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right.”
The president threatened to “override” the governors if they did not follow his order, though it was not immediately clear what powers he was claiming. “I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” he said. “If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call.”
When the C.D.C. recently released a set of guidelines for reopening, its report largely mirrored a draft version that the White House had rejected — but it omitted a section on “communities of faith” that had troubled Trump administration officials, who worried that the suggestions infringed on religious rights.
On Friday the C.D.C.’s new guidelines for religious communities suggested that they consider a number of limitations to keep congregations safe. Among them:
“Take steps to limit the size of gatherings in accordance with the guidance and directives of state and local authorities.”
“Consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition. The act of singing may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”
“Consider temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects that cannot be easily cleaned between persons, such as worship aids, prayer rugs, prayer books, hymnals, religious texts and other bulletins, books, shared cups, or other items received, passed or shared among congregants.”
Mr. Trump said Friday at the White House that the nation needs religion. “In America, we need more prayer, not less,” he said. He left without taking questions.
David Postman, the chief of staff for Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, said the state didn’t know what the president’s comments meant and the state had not seen any formal order.
“We don’t believe the president has the ability to dictate what states can and cannot open,” Mr. Postman said.
Religious services have emerged as flashpoints since states first began restricting large gatherings. Mr. Trump initially hoped to let the country reopen by Easter, a goal that proved untenable as the outbreak continued to grow.
In several cases his Justice Department has put its weight behind religious institutions battling state and local restrictions. After the department lent its support last month to a Mississippi church that was penalized for holding drive-in services in defiance of local virus restrictions, Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement: “Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.”
And Justice Department lawyers wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom of California this week objecting to his timeline for letting religious institutions reopen.
The president’s move came as health officials have found that worship gatherings can be particularly susceptible to viral spread. And some churches that recently reopened were forced to close again after discovering new infections, including Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Ga., and Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston.
The C.D.C. released a report this week about an outbreak in March at a rural Arkansas church. Of the 92 people who attended the church between March 6 and March 11, the report said, 35 tested positive and three died. And investigators found that another 26 other people who were in contact with the people who attended church events later tested positive, and one died.
States differ on their approaches to religious services during the pandemic.
It was not clear what authority the president was invoking when he called Friday for governors “to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” And soon after he spoke, the C.D.C. issued guidelines urging faith leaders to “take steps to limit the size of gatherings in accordance with the guidance and directives of state and local authorities.”
States and localities have been taking a variety of approaches to religious services since the outbreak began.
Houses of worship were already allowed to operate in more than half of the states, though many remain under social distancing instructions and many individual churches, synagogues and mosques have decided to remain closed for safety.
There have been tensions in places that still have restrictions in place. In California, more than 1,200 pastors signed a declaration protesting the state’s restrictions on in-person services and pledged to reopen their churches by May 31 even if the restrictions are not lifted. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Friday that the state was working with faith leaders on guidelines to reopen in “a safe and responsible manner” that would be released by Monday at the latest.
The state’s guidelines, which will distinguish between megachurches and smaller venues, deal with the configuration of pews and “sanitation protocols,” the governor said.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on Friday that he would “continue to operate on the basis of science and data” in deciding when it was safe for houses of worship to open.
“I’m as anxious as anybody to make sure that our churches, our mosques, our synagogues open back to where they were before Covid-19 came along,” Mr. Pritzker said. “We’re gradually moving in that direction. But there’s no doubt the most important thing is, we do not want parishioners to get ill because their faith leaders bring them together.”
The president’s call to let in-person services resume came just before one of the biggest Muslim holidays of the year, Eid al-Fitr, which starts Saturday night.
Washington State currently allows drive-in services, where congregants remain in their vehicles, and allows houses of worship to bring in personnel to broadcast and stream videos of services. Officials there have been working with an interfaith group to develop guidelines on how religious institutions can safely open up for more in-person activities.
And in some states, houses of worships were never required to close. In Pennsylvania, religious institutions were exempt from a stay-at-home order, though Gov. Tom Wolf has advised religious leaders not to hold in-person services or large gatherings to protect people from the virus.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan banned large gatherings but also said that houses of worship would not be subject to penalties, leaving the decision in the hands of religious leaders. Many churches, synagogues and mosques there decided to remain closed anyway, and those that are reopening often remain under strict guidelines, including limiting the number of congregants who could enter.
In hard-hit New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo moved this week to allow religious gatherings of up to 10 people to resume as long as attendees wear masks and maintain social distance. The announcement was particularly significant for Jewish congregations, where a minyan, defined as 10 people over 13, is required for a worship service.
Birx expresses ‘concerns’ about the persistence of cases in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.
One testing measure shows that coronavirus cases are persisting at worrisome rates in three major metropolitan areas — Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — that are still under stay-at-home orders, a top White House official said on Friday.
“We have concerns of where cities have remained closed and metros that have remained closed but have still persistent high number of cases,” Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters at a news conference. She said officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were working with local officials in the three cities “to really understand where these new cases coming from, and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.”
Dr. Birx’s concern did not suggest that the case rates in the three regions were spiking to alarming new levels, but rather that they were not dropping at the same rate as in many other cities.
Dr. Birx singled out the Washington area — which includes the district as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia — and said it led the country in the percentage of positive test results, a measure different from total coronavirus cases. Unlike New York, for example, the region has seen no “dramatic decline” in positive test rates or emergency room visits, Dr. Birx said.
Further complicating the picture, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington said on Thursday that the city could begin a phased reopening as early as May 29, pointing to figures that showed a downward trend in spread of the virus for almost two weeks. Yet on the same day, Washington, D.C., and Virginia announced single-day highs in cases.
The Washington region’s high positive-test percentage comes despite reassuring news in most states: 42 have a rate under 10 percent of positive test results as part of a rolling, seven-day average, Dr. Birx said.
The New York area, which includes Jersey City and Newark, is seeing steeper declines by that test result measure, Dr. Birx said. And cities that have been especially hard hit, such as Detroit, Boston and Miami, now have more promising daily case counts.
Some White House officials suggest the U.S. is overcounting virus deaths. Experts say the opposite is more likely.
Mr. Trump has begun questioning the official coronavirus death toll, suggesting the numbers are inflated, even as most experts say the opposite is likely.
In White House meetings, conversations with health officials have returned to similar suspicions: that the data compiled by state health departments and the C.D.C. include people who have died with the coronavirus but of other conditions, reported Noah Weiland, Maggie Haberman and Abby Goodnough.
Last Friday, Mr. Trump told reporters that he accepted the current death toll, but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which now totals nearly 95,000.
Most statisticians and public health experts say he is wrong; the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known. People are dying at their houses and nursing homes without ever being tested, and deaths early this year were likely misidentified as influenza or described only as pneumonia.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said publicly that the American health care system incorporates a generous definition of a death caused by Covid-19.
“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the I.C.U., and then have a heart or kidney problem — some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a Covid-19 death,” she said at a White House news conference last month.
In a brief interview Thursday, Dr. Birx stressed that there had been no pressure to alter data.
Robert Anderson, who runs the mortality statistics branch of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Health Statistics, said it was unlikely that there was any kind of overcount.
“The case reporting system asks: Did the patient die from this illness?” he said. “It’s not asking if the patient with Covid-19 died. It’s asking if they died from Covid-19.”
White House officials say skepticism in the Trump administration over C.D.C. data, including for opioid use, long predates the coronavirus outbreak. But new reasons have cropped up.
The Trump administration has looked to the outside to get its numbers. The Department of Health and Human Services has used a technology program devised by Palantir to track numbers gathered by federal agencies, states, private health providers and universities. The administration also signed a $10 million deal with a tracking contractor — first reported by The Washington Post — that monitors hospital capacity and Covid-19 deaths, essentially repeating and privatizing the work of the C.D.C.’s National Healthcare Safety Network.
Mixing antibody and viral test results raises questions.
The C.D.C. and several state health departments have come under fire for mixing two types of coronavirus tests in their reported results, in a way that public health experts say could distort the true picture of the pandemic.
The practice conflated two different types of tests results: viral tests, which assess whether someone currently has the virus, and antibody tests, which look for signs in the blood that a person had it in the past.
Both numbers are helpful in assessing the scale of the outbreak, but only viral test numbers can indicate a state’s ability to identify people who currently have the virus. Also, antibody tests are often inaccurate, recent research suggests.
A spokeswoman for the C.D.C. acknowledged in a statement that viral tests had initially far outpaced antibody tests, so the agency grouped them together. As antibody tests have become more common, officials are now working to differentiate the two.
Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont and Virginia have also faced scrutiny over combined results, though some state officials said they were initially not aware of the problem and have since made changes.
Virginia first faced criticism for combining its test results earlier this month, but has since stopped the practice, effective May 14, the state’s health department said on Friday.
Georgia is being closely watched after it became one of the first states in the country to reopen businesses last month. Cases there have remained more or less the same, but the latest developments raised questions about the accuracy of the numbers.
“The integrity of our data is absolutely our No. 1 priority,” Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said at a news conference on Thursday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is still using a small number of positive antibody tests to inform the state’s total case numbers, a spokesman, Nate Wardle, said on Friday. But he said those antibody tests represented less than 1 percent of total cases in the state, and were not being used to decide whether regions should reopen.
An anti-malaria drug promoted by the president may be harmful when taken to treat the virus.
People who received the drugs were more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms, according to the study, which was published in the The Lancet. They were also more likely to die.
Mr. Trump has said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine in hopes of preventing a virus infection, despite a safety warning last month from the Food and Drug Administration, which said that the drug should only be taken by virus patients in clinical trials or in hospitals where they could be closely monitored for heart problems.
His promotion of the drug has been criticized by medical experts and has led to an uptick in reported use by Americans. Hours after Mr. Trump first touted the drugs in March, new prescriptions for them poured into retail pharmacies at a much higher rate than had previously been seen.
The study was observational, meaning that the patients were not picked at random to receive the drug or not. It is based on data from 96,032 coronavirus patients from 671 hospitals around the world. Observational studies like this one cannot provide definitive evidence about drug safety and effectiveness.
Even so, the authors of the study recommended that the drugs not be used outside clinical trials, and they said carefully controlled trials were urgently needed. Several clinical trials are underway around the world.
Cascading weaknesses in the federal disaster response system are being exposed.
For decades, the backbone of the nation’s disaster response system — and a hallmark of American generosity — has been its army of volunteers who race toward danger to help shelter, feed and counsel victims of hurricanes, wildfires and other calamities.
However, the pandemic has exposed a critical weakness in this system: Most volunteers are older people at higher risk from the virus, so this year they can’t participate in person. Typically more than 5 million volunteers work in disaster relief annually, said Greg Forrester, president of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, an association of nonprofit groups, but this year he expects the number to decline by 50 percent.
Asked how disaster relief efforts can meet the usual demand with half as many people, Mr. Forrester said: “You won’t.”
It is the latest in a cascading series of problems facing an already fraying system ahead of what is expected to be an unusually severe hurricane season combined with disasters like this week’s dam collapse and flooding in Michigan, a state particularly hard hit.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is running short of highly trained personnel as the virus depletes its staff. Longstanding procedures for sheltering victims in gymnasiums or other crowded spaces suddenly are dangerous because they risk worsening the pandemic. And traditional agreements among states to help each other if crisis strikes are now sputtering.
FEMA says it has taken steps to prepare for hurricane season. “We have not taken our eye off the ball about handling other disasters,” Peter Gaynor, FEMA’s administrator, said in a briefing this month.
Nevertheless the problems amount to one of the most severe tests in decades for a system designed to respond to local or regional storms or other disasters — not a crisis on a national scale.
A vaccine developed in China appears to be safe and may offer protection against the virus, scientists say.
The early-stage trial, published in the Lancet, was conducted by researchers at several laboratories and included 108 participants. Subjects who got the vaccine mounted a moderate immune response to the virus, which peaked 28 days after the inoculation, the researchers found.
A vaccine to the new coronavirus is considered to be the best long-term solution to ending the pandemic and helping countries reopen their societies. Nearly 100 teams worldwide are racing to test various candidates.
On Monday, Moderna announced that its RNA vaccine appears to be safe and effective, based on results from eight people in its trial. On Wednesday, researchers in Boston said a prototype vaccine protected monkeys from coronavirus infection.
The vaccine reported today was created with another virus, an adenovirus called Ad5 that easily enters human cells.
But the virus is one that many people already have been exposed to, and some experts have worried that too many already have antibodies to Ad5, limiting its usefulness as a way to deliver a vaccine.
Although the vaccine did elicit some immune response, the results are based on data from just a short period. It is not clear how long-lasting the protection might be.
Apart from pain at the injection site, close to half of the participants also reported fever, fatigue and headaches, and about one in five had muscle pain.
The participants knew whether they were receiving a low, medium or high dose, however, which may have influenced their perceptions of the side effects.
The country enters a Memorial Day weekend to remember (or forget).
Mobbed beaches. Crowded parades. Congested public ceremonies. Jam-packed backyard barbecues. Memorial Day, which has come to signal the beginning of hot weather across much of the United States, typically brings millions shoulder to shoulder, towel to towel.
But this year, these first rites of summer are taking place as the country grapples with the pandemic and cautiously emerges from months of quarantine. People are eager for social interaction and fun, yet public health officials warn that those impulses could result in an uptick in cases.
Many traditional Memorial Day events have been canceled or replaced with socially distant formats. Elected officials and event organizers are struggling to bring back as much normalcy as possible without jeopardizing public health. The results have been hopeful, maddening and bewildering. But many Americans are pressing on, and trying to preserve what is important while letting go of what is not.
In the New York region, beach battles erupted ahead of the holiday weekend. After Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City moved to keep the city’s beaches closed, officials in the region, fearing an influx of sun-starved city dwellers, took steps to limiting outsiders at beaches from the Hamptons to the Jersey Shore. The city, however, is seriously considering opening its beaches to swimming in June, though the mayor declined to give a date.
The Memorial Day ceremony in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is on but organizers are begging the public not to come. The boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., opened this month, but signs reminded that groups of 10 or more were discouraged. And in Massachusetts, beaches will reopen for swimming on Memorial Day, but volleyball is banned and sunbathers must place their towels 12 feet apart.
Here are some general tips for planning a trip to the beach.
People are also beginning to feel the negative health effects of social isolation, which Steve Cole, a social genomics researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, argued can increase the chances of chronic disease and other types of illnesses the longer it goes on.
“We don’t want to be packed like sardines in a crowd,” he said, “but at the same time, a lone human being is a recipe for death.”
Deadly diseases could surge after disruptions to vaccination programs.
The widespread interruption of routine immunization programs around the world during the coronavirus pandemic is putting 80 million children under 1 year old at risk of contracting deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases, according to a report Friday by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The groups surveyed 129 poor and middle-income countries and found that 68 had some degree of disruption of vaccine services through clinics and through large inoculation campaigns.
Many public health experts say they are worried that deaths from diseases including cholera, rotavirus and diphtheria could far outstrip those from Covid-19 itself.
But officials are now moving toward a cautious risk-benefit analysis.
Summer camps and youth athletics will be allowed in Florida, without state restrictions.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, said on Friday that he was lifting all prohibitions on youth activities in the state, effective immediately. Local governments could choose to keep some restrictions.
The state Department of Health will publish answers to frequently asked questions, but “we’re not really going to be instituting a lot of rules, or really any rules,” he said. “We trust parents to be able to make decisions.”
Mr. DeSantis acknowledged that children have died of complications related to Covid-19. And a handful of children in Florida have been hospitalized with an inflammatory disease linked to the virus. (The ailment has now been reported in at least 161 children in New York; three have died there. Hundreds of other children across the United States and in Europe have also been sickened with the illness.)
Dr. Bonnie White, a pediatrician who treats the governor’s three young children, said at the news conference that parents should also let their children play with other children, assuming none of them have any symptoms. She did urge parents to vaccinate their children, especially against the measles.
The governor noted that the state never closed day care centers, in spite of C.D.C. recommendations, and did not see major problems stemming from those facilities.
Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville, who joined him on Friday, said parents have approached him asking for their children’s activities to be renewed.
Most of Florida began gradually reopening on May 4, with the exception of populous South Florida, where the virus has hit hardest. But even there, life has slowly resumed. Beaches in Miami-Dade County will reopen on June 1, its mayor announced on Friday. Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward County had been the last to allow beachgoers back.
The virus still does not spread easily on surfaces, the C.D.C. says.
Guidelines from the C.D.C. making the rounds online this week are clarifying what we know about the spread of the virus.
But this information is not new; the agency has been using similar language for months. If anything, the headlines have pulled into sharper focus what we already know. The virus is thought to spread mainly from one person to another, typically through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks at close range — even if that person is not showing symptoms.
The C.D.C.’s website also says that “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes” is a possible way for people to become infected. But those are “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
N.Y.C.’s suburbs could start to reopen next week, Cuomo said.
Long Island and the suburban counties north of New York City could begin reopening next week if the number of virus-related deaths keep declining and local officials set up strong contract-tracing programs, Mr. Cuomo said on Friday.
As of Friday, only New York City and the surrounding areas have yet to meet the state’s seven reopening metrics. Both Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bill de Blasio said New York City, which has met four of the state’s criteria, was not likely to begin reopening until June.
New York City still needs to have at least 30 percent of its hospital beds and at least 30 percent of its intensive-care-unit beds available. As of Friday morning, it had 27 percent of hospital beds and 26 percent of its I.C.U. beds available.
Both city and state officials have said that their metrics were likely to go hand in hand, and that they would coordinate in their decisions on reopening, though the governor on Friday suggested that the state’s guidelines took precedence.
This is how to fix your work-from-home tech.
The last thing you need right now is a spotty Wi-Fi signal interrupting your workday. Good news! There are some simple steps you can take to improve that. And, while you’re at it, take a look at the rest of your computer setup and see what may be slowing you down. A little tweak can make working from home less miserable.
China abandons a growth target for the year and more from our international correspondents.
Parting with years of precedent, China on Friday abandoned an annual growth target for 2020, in an acknowledgment that restarting its economy after the outbreak will be a slow and difficult process. In his annual report to lawmakers meeting in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang said that the country had made major achievements in its response to the epidemic and that economic development was a top priority. But while he set goals to limit inflation and unemployment, he did not announce a target for economic growth for the year.
Reporting was contributed by Denise Grady, Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Eileen Sullivan, Christopher Flavelle, Apoorva Mandavilli, Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Patricia Mazzei, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Kassie Bracken, Niraj Chokshi, Michael Gold, Dana Rubinstein, Keith Bradsher, Mohammed Hadi, Chris Buckley, Sarah Mervosh, Julie Bosman, Jan Hoffman, Annie Karni, Corey Kilgannon, Alan Rappeport, Joseph Goldstein, Jesse McKinley, Emily Rhyne, Biance Giaever, Robin Pogrebin, Marc Santora, Elizabeth Dias, Jeanna Smialek, Farah Stockman, Noah Weiland, Maggie Haberman and Abby Goodnough.
View original article here Source