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‘We are incredibly concerned’: A group of local health departments urges the C.D.C. to pull its new guidance on testing.
Two organizations that represent thousands of local public health departments in the United States sent a letter to senior Trump administration officials on Friday asking that they “pull the revised guidance” on coronavirus testing and restore recommendations that individuals who have been exposed to the virus be tested whether or not they have symptoms.
The letter — addressed to Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, an assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services — was sent by the leaders of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the Big Cities Health Coalition. The organizations’ leaders wrote that their members were “incredibly concerned” about the changes.
The C.D.C. quietly modified its coronavirus testing guidelines this week to exclude people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 — even if they have been recently exposed to the virus.
Experts questioned the revision, pointing to the importance of identifying infections in the small window immediately before the onset of symptoms, when many individuals appear to be most contagious.
After a storm of criticism, Dr. Redfield tried to clarify the agency’s recommendation and said “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients.”
The letter sent on Friday said, “As public health professionals, we are troubled about the lack of evidence cited to inform this change. CDC’s own data suggest that perhaps as many as 40 percent of COVID-19 cases are attributable to asymptomatic transmission. Changing testing guidelines to suggest that close contacts to confirmed positives without symptoms do not need to be tested is inconsistent with the science and the data.”
The letter went on to say that while the new guidance allows local or state health officials to make exceptions, it “will make their ability to respond to the pandemic even harder,” allowing skeptical officials or members of the public to blame and question them. “This revision and its resulting impact is adding yet another obstacle for public health practitioners to effectively address the pandemic.”
While typically local public health officials would inform or at least be given notice of significant changes to testing guidance, this time that did not occur, the letter said.
“We have seen over the months of the response the politicization of public health, with local health officials and staff being blamed for taking the necessary steps to keep the public safe, being physically threatened with violence, and in some cases, fired for standing up for the public’s health.”
For many schools in the U.S., returning to the classroom means a stop in the courtroom.
The fight over whether to reopen classrooms in person in the United States is increasingly moving into the country’s courtrooms as the pandemic disrupts the nascent fall semester.
The legal actions reflect the competing views over brick-and-mortar versus remote instruction. Some are suing to stay out of the classroom, and others to get in.
In Iowa, the Des Moines school district has asked a court to reverse an “unsafe” mandate that it bring students back in person at least halftime.
In Florida, a circuit court judge sided on Monday with teachers’ unions fighting a state rule conditioning school funding on the availability of in-person classes. (The state is appealing.)
The California Supreme Court has taken up two lawsuits — one filed on behalf of private schools, the other by a charter school and the Orange County Board of Education — challenging state mandates that have kept classes solely online for most California students.
The litigation often mirrors the country’s partisan divide.
Florida and Iowa are led by Republican governors who support President Trump’s push to get students back into classrooms in the hope that it will boost the economy, which remains very weak as the nation heads into the election.
California and Oregon are Democratic-led states with strong teachers’ unions, and the governors there have argued that until infection rates are brought under control, it is unsafe to fully reopen schools.
Ordinarily, decisions on how best to educate children and protect the public rest with elected officials, said Tom Hutton, interim executive director of the Education Law Association. “But a combination of factors is bringing these things to the court, one being that the stakes are so very high from an education and health standpoint,” he said.
Many judges now find themselves faced with a balancing act.
“I think courts generally are deferential to public health authorities,” Mr. Hutton said. “At the same time, on education calls, they tend to defer to school boards. And if you have the immovable object and the unstoppable force, in most cases, public safety wins.”
Some suits have presented a rare exception.
In Ohio, the parents of a special needs student in Columbus filed a suit early this month against their school district after it announced plans to follow the local health department’s recommendation and begin the school year with remote instruction. The suit, which was later joined by five other families, said the children would suffer irreparable harm.
Other lawsuits are more ideological.
In California, for instance, the plaintiffs against the state include two Christian schools and the board that oversees charter school applications in Orange County, a small panel dominated by political conservatives who have urged schools to reopen without face masks.
And in Iowa, a suit filed Tuesday by the Des Moines schools names Gov. Kim Reynolds, a supporter of the president whose aggressive push to reopen schools has been criticized by teachers unions and health experts, and has prompted other lawsuits.
“At its core, this is a case about local control,” the Des Moines suit argues.
Trump promises a vaccine by the end of the year, and boasts of his pandemic response.
President Trump said on Thursday that his administration would produce a vaccine against the coronavirus before the end of the year “or maybe even sooner” as part of an American effort to defeat the pandemic.
Mr. Trump spoke at the end of the Republican National Convention, and his vaccine pledge came amid remarks that also touched on tax cuts, his border wall, Supreme Court appointments and his trade war with China, among other Republican policy priorities.
Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Trump likened the U.S. fight against the pandemic to mass mobilizations during the Civil War and World War II.
“In recent months our nation and the entire planet has been struck by a new and powerful invisible enemy,” he said. “Like those brave Americans before us, we are meeting this challenge. We are delivering lifesaving therapies. And we’ll produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner.”
The president’s speech did not mention that the pandemic has killed more than 180,000 people in the United States, the world’s highest national death toll by far. There also were no signs of social distancing on the lawn, where about 1,500 folding chairs with roughly a foot between them were facing the lectern.
Mr. Trump’s vaccine pledge is a tall order by any measure. Several companies are gunning for approval by the Food and Drug Administration by the end of this year or perhaps in early 2021, but approval is just the first of many steps. Patients must be willing to take the vaccine, for example, and there must be enough doses produced to be distributed.
The longer that vaccines are tested before being released, the likelier they are to be safe and effective. But the White House’s search for a silver bullet to end the crisis has prompted fears among government researchers that the president — who has spent his time in office undermining science and the expertise of the federal bureaucracy — may push the F.D.A. to overlook insufficient data and give at least limited emergency approval to a vaccine.
Mr. Trump spoke on the fourth and final night of a convention in which Republicans glossed over or misled about his efforts in confronting the pandemic.
Most of the speakers on Thursday — including Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development and a physician himself — made only glancing references to the virus, if they mentioned it at all.
One exception was the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who said in her speech that she had seen him express sympathy for those who have died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I’ve seen the pain in his eyes when he receives updates on the lives that have been stolen by this plague,” she said.
Japan’s leader, whose handling of the virus had been criticized, says he will resign.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said on Friday that he would step down because of ill health, just four days after becoming the country’s longest-serving leader.
Though Mr. Abe had led Japan through a recovery from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster and restored a semblance of economic health, the public was dissatisfied with his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, particularly its effects on the economy. In the months since the pandemic began, what achievements he could claim under his economic platform, known as “Abenomics,” had been erased.
Mr. Abe, 65, had been prime minister for nearly eight years, a significant feat in a country accustomed to high turnover in the top job.
Mr. Abe said during a news conference that he had suffered a relapse of the bowel disease that led him to resign during his first stint in office. He said he wanted to make way for a new leader who could focus fully on tackling the challenges facing Japan, chiefly the pandemic.
His conservative governing party, the Liberal Democratic Party, is expected to appoint an interim leader who will serve until the party can hold a leadership election, according to NHK, the public broadcaster. Mr. Abe’s term was set to expire in September 2021.
In other developments around the world:
Pubs in Ireland should remain shut, the country’s health authorities recommended, reversing plans to allow them to open next week. Pubs which offer food alongside drinks re-opened in late June, but about 3,500 pubs which serve only drinks have been closed since March, making Ireland’s lockdown on pubs the longest in the European Union. The country has recently seen a growth in coronavirus cases, and Ireland’s acting chief medical officer, Dr. Ronan Glynn, said “It simply isn’t the appropriate time right now to open pubs,” calling them “one of the most high-risk environments for transmission of disease.”
Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the biggest cities in the Netherlands, will no longer require face masks in some public places starting next week, the local news media reported on Friday. The rule to wear face masks in designated areas went into effect on Aug. 5, but it is expected that colder weather and fewer tourists will make social distancing easier. Face masks are only mandatory on public transportation in the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is encouraging workers to return to their offices in an effort to dig the his country’s economy out of its deepest recession in modern history. Timed to coincide with the reopening of many schools in England and Wales next week, a government campaign will ask employers to assure their workers that it is safe to return. Many office employees in Britain are working remotely, and many companies have said they don’t have plans to bring them back right away. Mr. Johnson made the renewed push after business leaders warned on Thursday that city centers could become “ghost towns” if workers did not return to their offices soon.
India reports 75,000 new cases a day, and fears it hasn’t seen the worst.
India has become the fastest growing coronavirus crisis, reporting on Friday at least 75,000 new cases per day over the past two days.
In the past week, India has reported nearly half a million cases, by far the world leader, according to a New York Times database. The country has a total of 3.3 million cases and at least 61,000 deaths.
Packed cities, which make social distancing nearly impossible, lockdown fatigue and virtually no contact tracing has spread the virus to every corner of the country of 1.3 billion people.
Health experts say the virus reproduction rate is ticking up as more state governments, desperate to stimulate an ailing economy, are loosening lockdown restrictions, which is spreading the virus further.
“Everything right now is indicating toward a massive surge in the caseload in coming days,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a health researcher at Melaka Manipal Medical College in southern India. “What is more worrying is we are inching toward the Number One spot globally.”
Dr. Bhan said that during the strict lockdown from late March to late May, most of India’s Covid-19 cases were concentrated in urban areas. But as restrictions on interstate travel were eased, many people started moving from the cities to rural areas, bringing the virus with them.
Some public hospitals have become so overwhelmed with sick people that doctors have had to treat patients in the hallways. In some cases, people in critical condition, even if they don’t have the coronavirus, have no place to get help.
Thekkekara Jacob John, a former head of clinical virology at the Christian Medical College in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, said the country was heading toward a peak in September.
He complained that the government had not followed a careful exit strategy from its strict lockdown and that many people had grown tired from staying in their houses for so long and were ignoring the rules about social distancing.
“Now they think it is better to get the virus than to stay hungry inside,” he said.
Ukraine closes its borders ahead of a Jewish pilgrimage.
Ukraine closed its borders for a second time this year after new cases in the country rose and amid concerns that an influx of Hasidic Jews traveling to pilgrimage sites in the town of Uman risked spreading the virus.
In typical years, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews visit Uman, in central Ukraine, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. The grave of Rabbi Tzaddik Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810, is in Uman.
The country instituted the ban on foreigners from Friday until Sept. 28. This year, Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20. Infections in Ukraine had already been rising sharply because of outbreaks linked partly to gatherings for weddings and Orthodox Christian religious ceremonies in the west of the country.
Still, the decision to close the borders again was met with a wave of criticism in Ukraine. European Pravda, a business newspaper, said it would “punish investors.”
The government took pains to explain the closure was strictly on public health grounds. “We do not make decisions based on discriminatory criteria,” the minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said during an online briefing.
Mr. Kuleba said that Rosh Hashanah has been recognized as a national holiday in Ukraine and that the recognition is “an indication of how much we respect the key holidays of communities living in Ukraine.” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, became the country’s first Jewish leader last year.
Israel’s lead adviser on the virus, Ronni Gamzu, has sent a letter to Mr. Zelensky supporting the suspension of the pilgrimage this year, Reuters reported. “A gathering of this sort, at such troubled times, is expected to generate mass events of infection of tourists and local Ukrainian residents, turning into a heavy burden on local medical systems, while thousands more are expected to come back to Israel and further spread the virus,” he said.
Before the decision to close the border was made, the governor of the Uman region, Oleksandr Tserbiy, spent a night in a tent near the presidential office in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to protest in favor of canceling the pilgrimage.
On Thursday night in Uman, clashes took place between locals and Hasidic Jews who had arrived early to celebrate. Pilgrims were not allowed to go to the rabbi’s tomb. The police intervened to separate the two groups.
Where Americans gathered, the virus followed.
Six months into the pandemic, The New York Times has collected data on more than 500,000 cases linked to thousands of distinct clusters around the United States. Many of those cases turned up in settings that became familiar headlines: cruise ships, prisons, nursing homes, meatpacking plants.
But thousands of other cases emerged in other corners of American life, often with little fanfare. Thirty-five cases at the Belleville Boot Company in Arkansas. Twelve at First Baptist Church in Wheeling, W.Va. Ninety-nine at Saputo Cheese in South Gate, Calif.
The clusters illustrate how the virus has crept into much of life, with a randomness that seems the only rule.
Germany’s Merkel says she expects the colder months to complicate the pandemic.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany believes the pandemic will get worse with the end of summer and the arrival of colder weather.
“We have all enjoyed the freedoms and relative protection from aerosols in the summer, which is possible through life outdoors,” Ms. Merkel said on Friday during her traditional summer news conference with reporters.
“Yes, we must expect that some things will be even more difficult in the coming months than they are now in the summer.”
Ms. Merkel said that her continued focus was schools, the economy and societal cohesion, calling the virus “an imposition on democracy.”
On Thursday, Ms. Merkel and state governors had agreed on a number of new virus measures, including a minimum fine for not wearing masks and rules designed to lower infections brought back to Germany by returning travelers.
While a vast majority agree with the government’s virus measures, a vocal minority believe that the government has gone too far. In Berlin, city officials had canceled several demonstrations against virus restrictions planned for the weekend. But on Friday, a Berlin court overturned the city’s decision and ruled that the demonstrations could take place if special social-distancing rules were followed.
On Thursday, German health authorities registered 1,571 new infections in the past 24 hours, with many of the infected thought to have become ill while on vacation abroad. A week ago the country registered more than 2,000 cases in a single day, a number not seen since the end of April. Germany has had at least 239,500 cases of the virus and 9,288 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
“It won’t be the same as before until we have a vaccine and a drug,” Ms. Merkel said.
In a survey about how 14 countries have handled the virus, Americans and Britons rate themselves lowest.
In a survey of 14 countries with advanced economies, the United States and Britain fared the worst on a question about how people view their country’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Only 47 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center said their country had done a good job of handling the spread of the virus, according to results published on Thursday, while 46 percent of Britons viewed their government’s response favorably.
None of the other countries got an approval percentage below 50, and among all 14 surveyed, a median of 73 percent of respondents said they approved of how their country had handled their outbreak. The highest rates of approval were in Denmark (95 percent) and Australia (94 percent).
The United States has by far the highest number of infections and related deaths in the world, while Britain ranks fifth in total deaths, according to a New York Times database.
The researchers also asked whether people believed their country was more divided than before the virus hit, and 77 percent of the Americans surveyed said yes, while no other country registered above 60 percent on that question. Only a quarter of Danes said the same about their country. That was the lowest percentage, followed by 27 percent of Japanese respondents and 29 percent of Canadians.
In Europe, people with positive views of right-wing populist parties were more likely to say that division had increased, especially in Germany.
In the United States, three-quarters of Republicans and independent voters who lean toward the Republican Party told Pew researchers that the government had done a good job dealing with the virus, while only a quarter of Democrats, or those leaning toward the Democratic Party, said the same.
The researchers said perceptions of economic circumstances played a role in how people rated their country during the pandemic.
“Across all 14 nations included in the survey, those who think their current national economic situation is good are also more likely than those who believe the economy is bad to say their country has done a good job of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak,” the researchers wrote.
The Pew researchers spoke to 14,276 adults by phone from June 10 to Aug. 3.
Here’s a promising sign for New Yorkers: The ‘hot dog king’ is back in business.
When the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed in March, as the virus ravaged New York, the cluster of pushcarts out front — one of the most coveted food-vending locations in the city — was left with no business.
“No museum, no customers,” said Dan Rossi, 70, a vendor who over 13 years has become known as the museum’s “hot dog king” by holding the top sidewalk-selling spot, directly in front of the Met’s main steps.
Mr. Rossi was not about to pack up. For more than five months, he kept his carts dormant at their location, along Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street in Manhattan, and visited constantly from his suburban home to make sure they were not moved.
Now, with the museum reopening to the public on Saturday, he has fired up his propane grills and resumed selling his $3 dogs and $1 bottles of water. He will again work to lure customers away from the seven vendors who typically flank him offering pretzels, halal food, ice cream and more hot dogs.
During the height of the virus outbreak in the spring, the city declared the vendors essential workers, and many of them remained in business. In some hard-hit neighborhoods — like Jackson Heights and Corona, both in Queens — food carts were crucial in providing meals, said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, deputy director of the nonprofit Street Vendor Project, which represents thousands of such sellers in New York.
Reporting was contributed by Alexander Burns, Sheri Fink, Jeffrey Gettleman, Maggie Haberman, Shawn Hubler, Mike Ives, Corey Kilgannon, Claire Moses, Motoko Rich, Anna Schaverien, Christopher F. Schuetze, Marina Varenikova, Lauren Wolfe and Sameer Yasir.
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