Covid-19 Live Updates: The White House, Under Fire for Discouraging Testing, Says It Will Buy Millions of Test Kits

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The White House announces a major virus test-kit deal, just days after the C.D.C. moved to discourage testing.

The White House announced on Thursday the purchase of 150 million rapid coronavirus tests from Abbott Laboratories, which a day earlier was granted emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a new $5 test that can be run in 15 minutes.

The $750 million deal with Abbott came just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reportedly under pressure from top Trump administration officials, moved to discourage testing for people who don’t show Covid-19 symptoms — even if they’ve recently been exposed to the virus. Many public health experts denounced that decision, saying it would make it harder to track and fight the virus.

On Thursday, even as his own aides found themselves having to defend that earlier decision, President Trump was expected to trumpet the new deal with Abbott in his speech to the Republican National Convention.

News of the president’s plan to announce the testing kit deal on the final night of the convention was first reported by Politico Thursday morning.

Described as “rapid, reliable, highly portable and affordable” in a statement released on Wednesday, Abbott’s new device, called the BinaxNOW Covid-19 Ag Card, is a bit like a pregnancy test. It is meant to detect pieces of coronavirus proteins on a credit-card-size device that doesn’t require laboratory equipment.

Credit…Abbott Laboratories, via Associated Press

“This is a major development that will help save more lives by further protecting America’s most vulnerable and allow our country to remain open, get Americans back to work, and get kids back to school,” White House officials wrote in a statement released to the news media.

Abbott is poised to ship tens of millions of tests in September, targeting point-of-care settings where they can be administered by doctors, nurses, school nurses, pharmacists and more “with minimal training and a patient prescription,” according to the statement.

While often faster and cheaper than other types of coronavirus tests, antigen tests like Abbott’s are often less accurate. Abbott’s is intended to be used in the first seven days after symptoms start.

earing a mask, avoiding crowded indoor spaces and frequently washing their hands.

No signs of social distancing at site of Trump acceptance speech.

About 1,500 white folding chairs with roughly a foot between them were set up facing the lectern where President Trump was to formally accept his party’s nomination for another four years in the White House on Thursday night.

On a day when the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 180,000, The Times’s Michael Shear reported, the president planned to address a large crowd sitting close together on the South Lawn of the White House. There did not appear to be significant social distancing, photos of the event space showed.

Officials at the Republican National Committee, which is producing the convention, declined to respond to questions about whether members of the audience would be required to wear masks or would be tested for the virus before being allowed onto the White House grounds for the final night of speeches.

Hurricane Laura and the virus collide in Louisiana and Texas.

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Hurricane Laura Sweeps Through Gulf Coast

Hurricane Laura, one of the strongest U.S. storms on record, moved north through Louisiana after making landfall as a Category 4 storm early Thursday.

“Get back! Get back!”

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Hurricane Laura, one of the strongest U.S. storms on record, moved north through Louisiana after making landfall as a Category 4 storm early Thursday.CreditCredit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

Louisiana and Texas are facing a convergence of two public health disasters as Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful storms to ever strike the United States, pelts down on the two states — which are among the states most ravaged by the pandemic.

The hurricane was preceded by tough decisions about evacuating and an urgent push to get people out of harm’s way, with more than 500,000 residents in Louisiana and Texas urged to leave their homes.

Although large shelters have been set up throughout the hurricane zone, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas had encouraged evacuees to consider forgoing shelters and instead booking rooms in hotels or motels, a safer way to isolate themselves from others who might be infected with the virus.

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana employed a different message that has become familiar during the pandemic: Stay home.

In parts of Louisiana, virus testing sites were closed, and families fleeing the storm piled onto buses, most wearing masks.

With more than 145,000 known cases, Louisiana has had the most confirmed cases per capita in the nation since the virus reached the state earlier this year, according to a New York Times database. The virus was particularly brutal early on in New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations helped fuel an eruption in cases. But it has also more recently been moving through other parts of the state, including Baton Rouge and the Shreveport area.

In Texas, traditional shelters like gymnasiums and convention centers that have hosted hundreds of evacuees in past disasters were to be set up with “layers of separation” between the occupants, Mr. Abbott said. The shelters and buses have hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment like face masks, and state officials plan to dispatch testing teams to the larger shelters.

“The state and local governments are fully aware that they are dealing with a pandemic while they are responding to Hurricane Laura,” Mr. Abbott said.

Researchers are working on a second wave of vaccines that they say could be cheaper and more potent than the first.

Credit…Luca Sola/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Seven months into the coronavirus crisis, with more than 30 vaccines rapidly advancing through t clinical trials, a surprising number of research groups are placing bets on some that have not yet been given to a single person.

The New York Times has confirmed that at least 88 vaccine candidates are under active preclinical investigation in laboratories across the world, with 67 of them slated to begin clinical trials before the end of 2021.

Those trials may begin after millions of people have already received the first wave of vaccines. It will take months to see if any of them are safe and effective.

Nevertheless, the scientists developing them say their designs may be able to prompt more powerful immune responses, or be much cheaper to produce, or both — making them the slow and steady winners of the race against the virus.

“The first vaccines may not be the most effective,” said Ted Ross, the director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia, who is working on an experimental vaccine he hopes to put into clinical trials in 2021.

Many of the vaccines at the front of the pack today try to teach the body the same basic lesson. They deliver a protein that covers the surface of the coronavirus, which appears to prompt the immune system to make antibodies to fight it off.

But some researchers worry that we may be pinning too many hopes on a strategy that has not been proved to work. “It would be a shame to put all our eggs in the same basket,” said David Veesler, a virologist at the University of Washington.

For many schools, back to the classroom means a stop in the courtroom

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The fight over whether to reopen K-through-12 classrooms in person is increasingly moving into the nation’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 sue 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.

And in Oregon this month, a federal district judge rejected a petition from three Christian schools seeking an exception to state health restrictions so they could hold classes in person.

The litigations 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 faces 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.”

A distance-learning company that has thrived during the pandemic is being criticized for content seen as sexist or racist.

The pandemic has created an enormous market for online learning, but some people have criticized the companies that have helped fill the void.

Parents in several states are protesting the use of Acellus Academy, an online learning company that has received a flood of business since the outbreak began.

Acellus, based in Kansas City, Mo., provides thousands of video lessons for students of all ages in 4,000 schools across the country. It says it has quintupled its servers to keep up with demand from schools unable to provide in-person instruction.

But in Hawaii, Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, parents have complained that some of the company’s lessons are racist or sexist.

In one lesson, students are asked whether Osama bin Laden led the Islamic Jihad Union, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood or “Towelban.” In another, they are shown two images — one of a woman holding a small bag over her shoulder and one of a robber in disguise with a large sack over his shoulder — and asked which best depicts Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery.

In a petition opposing Acellus Academy, parents in Hawaii said, “Parents should be provided a well-vetted and legitimate option for distance learning.”

The founder of Acellus Academy, Roger Billings, did not immediately return messages seeking comment, but in a statement on its website, the company said it had removed or changed about a dozen lessons flagged by critics.

“Any lesson brought to our attention, out of the 985,000 lessons we now offer, that is tagged as racial or sexist will be reviewed and revised, usually within one business day,” it said.

Three Hawaii schools, including Aliamanu Elementary School in Honolulu, have announced this week that they were dropping Acellus Academy.

The controversy is part of a series of disputes over remote schooling across the United States.

U.S. ROUNDUP

Weekly unemployment claims in the U.S. again exceed one million.

Credit…William Widmer for The New York Times

Just over one million Americans filed new claims for state jobless benefits last week, the latest sign that the economy is losing momentum just as federal aid to the unemployed has been pulled away.

Weekly claims briefly dipped below the one million mark earlier this month, offering a glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy job market. But filings jumped back above one million the following week, and stayed there last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Another 608,000 people filed for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers aid to independent contractors, self-employed workers and others not covered by regular state programs. That number, unlike the figures for state claims, is not seasonally adjusted.

Other recent indicators also suggest that the recovery is faltering. Job growth slowed in July, and real-time data from private-sector sources suggests that hiring has slumped further in August. On Tuesday, American Airlines said it would furlough 19,000 workers on Oct. 1, the latest in a string of such announcements from major corporations.

Unemployment filings have fallen sharply since early April, when 6.6 million applied for benefits in a single week. But even after that decline, weekly filings far exceed any previous period. Roughly 30 million Americans are receiving benefits under various state and federal programs.

The continued high rate of job losses comes as government support for the unemployed is waning. The $600-a-week federal supplement to state unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, and efforts to replace it have stalled in Congress. Mr. Trump announced this month that he was using his executive authority to give jobless workers an additional $300 or $400 a week, but few states have begun paying out the new benefit, and the $44 billion allocated to the program is expected to last only a few weeks.

Economists warn that the loss of federal support could act as a brake on the recovery. Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist for the forecasting firm Oxford Economics, estimated that the lapse in extra unemployment benefits would reduce household income by $45 billion in August. That could lead to a drop in consumer spending and further layoffs, she said.

In other U.S. news:

  • The C.E.O. of Delta Air Lines said in a letter to staff on Thursday that the carrier had put about 240 customers on a no-fly list for refusing to wear masks aboard its planes and in its lounges and gate areas. Other airlines, including United, have also barred passengers for flouting virus-safety rules.

  • On Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds off Iowa ordered all bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and night clubs closed in six counties as of 5 p.m. Central Time: Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk, and Story. Ms. Reynolds made the move as the state faced a large jump in cases — the average of new cases over the last seven days was up 70 percent from the average two weeks prior, according to a New York Times database. The businesses will remain closed until Sept. 20.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Gaza, which had reported no community transmission since the start of the pandemic, sees a local outbreak.

Credit…Mohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock

A three-day extension of a lockdown in the Gaza Strip went into effect on Thursday after the densely populated territory — which had not recorded a single case of community transmission of the virus before this week — saw two virus-related deaths since Monday, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

The ministry on Thursday reported a total of 80 new cases of community transmission over the past several days. Yousef Abu al-Rish, the deputy health minister, told a news conference in Gaza City on Wednesday that he expected the coming days would see “more and more” infections, but emphasized that there was still an opportunity to contain the pandemic.

Until Monday, the authorities had found infections only at quarantine facilities, where all returning travelers are required to isolate for three weeks and pass two tests before being permitted to leave.

In other developments around the world:

  • Over the past six months, about 1.5 billion children around the world have been told to stay home from school because of the pandemic. But more than 30 percent of them — around 463 million — were unable to gain access to remote learning opportunities, according to a report on Wednesday by UNICEF. Schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa have been the most affected, the report said, with education systems there failing to reach about half of all students through television, radio, internet or other forms of remote learning. Forty percent of students in the Middle East and North Africa, 38 percent in South Asia and 34 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have also been unable to learn remotely.

  • In Britain, the government said it would start to make payments to people in low-income areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases who have to quarantine but cannot work from home. Payments of up to 182 pounds (about $240) will be made to people who have tested positive for the virus as well as to their contacts if they meet certain criteria.

  • In Germany, demonstrations by far-right groups against virus restrictions scheduled for the weekend in Berlin were canceled after city authorities said that they would most likely break social-distancing rules. Critics said a ban could energize those who already think the state is overreaching, and lead to more-dangerous protests.

  • Doctors in the public hospitals in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, have ended their weeklong strike over shoddy protective gear, lack of insurance coverage and delayed salaries. The return to work announcement came after the Nairobi county government and the doctors’ union struck a deal addressing most of the health workers’ concerns.

  • South Korea reported 441 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily total since early March, as the government criticized what it called two great obstacles in fighting the virus: doctors on strike and churches obstructing epidemiological efforts. The country has reported three-digit daily jumps in infections since Aug. 14.

  • Face masks will be required in all public places in Paris starting Friday morning, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced. France has seen a surge in cases, and Mr. Castex warned against complacency.

Pelosi and Meadows speak for the first time since stimulus discussions stalled.

Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, spoke on Thursday afternoon for the first time since talks on an economic recovery package collapsed earlier this month, raising the possibility of jump-starting negotiations on another round of pandemic stimulus.

Since the discussions broke down weeks ago, top Democrats and administration officials have barely been in contact, even as the toll of the virus continued to mount on families, small businesses and schools.

House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion relief measure in May and then scaled back their request this month, asking Mr. Trump’s team to raise their opening offer to a $2 trillion plan — a notion they also rejected.

In the 25-minute call on Thursday, Ms. Pelosi said, she told Mr. Meadows that Democrats would lower their opening bid from $3.4 trillion to $2.2 trillion.

“This conversation made clear that the White House continues to disregard the needs of the American people as the coronavirus crisis devastates lives and livelihoods,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement after the call. “The administration’s continued failure to acknowledge the funding levels that experts, scientists and the American people know is needed leaves our nation at a tragic impasse.”

Ms. Pelosi later told reporters that she would agree to speak again when the White House agreed to a $2.2 trillion threshold for the stimulus.

After negotiations stalled, Mr. Trump took a series of executive actions this month that he said would deliver relief across the country, though officials acknowledged that the moves would be small in scope and impact without new funds allocated by lawmakers. His plan to use a FEMA disaster fund to pay for aid to laid-off workers is also facing fresh scrutiny as Hurricane Laura bears down on the Gulf Coast with another storm in tow, raising the possibility that the money will be needed for a major recovery effort.

With the impasse persisting into the annual August recess, many lawmakers and aides have concluded that any additional pandemic relief would have to be tied to a stopgap spending bill to fund the entire federal government. That measure must pass by the end of September to avert a shutdown.

Flu vaccines are available now, and doctors urge everyone to get one to avoid a ‘twindemic.’

Credit…Bryan R. Smith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Everyone above the age of 6 months should be getting the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Uchenna Ikediobi, an assistant professor of general internal medicine and infectious diseases at Yale University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you get the vaccination no later than September or October, before the start of the season. Healthy adults can get one now, but adults over 65 and those with compromised immune systems should wait until at least mid-September, so that the vaccine’s protection lasts the entire season, experts said. A special vaccine for older adults protects against multiple virus strains, and there are egg-free and nasal versions available.

Some schools trying to reopen are up against another danger: bacteria in the water.

Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The coronavirus is not the only issue that teachers, students, parents and staff will have to worry about as some schools attempt to reopen this fall. Legionella could lurk in the water supplies of school buildings.

Last week in Ohio, officials found Legionella at five schools. On Friday, a district in Pennsylvania also announced it had found Legionella at four of its schools.

“It is unusual to hear about nine schools in a one-week period having a detection of Legionella,” said Andrew Whelton, an associate professor at Purdue University in Indiana who has been studying the effects of lockdown on water systems. He said that more schools may be testing for the bacteria than in a typical year.

Legionella can form in stagnant water and then disperse through the air and be inhaled when, for example, a shower or tap is turned on. It can be fatal in one in 10 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many school buildings have been unoccupied since March. Experts worry that water was left to stagnate, and that schools don’t have effective guidance for dealing with the effects of prolonged shutdowns.

The C.D.C. has issued guidelines for business and building reopenings after coronavirus lockdowns that are applicable to schools, a spokeswoman said. But the vagueness of many of the guidelines, according to Dr. Whelton, means that schools that do the minimum of general preventive steps can claim to be compliant.

Colleges in N.Y. must switch to remote learning if an increase in cases meets certain criteria, the governor says.

Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Thursday that colleges must move classes online for two weeks if they report 100 cases or a number of cases equal to 5 percent of their on-campus population, whichever is lower, over two weeks.

A spokesman for the governor said that using a low number of cases — a tiny fraction of some larger universities’ student bodies — to measure when to move colleges online was necessary to keep outbreaks in check in a state in which more than 30,000 people have already died from the virus.

“We should anticipate clusters and that’s what we’re seeing,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Be prepared for it, get ahead of it.”

The governor also said that if the number of cases on campus didn’t reach either threshold but a college’s ability to isolate and trace the outbreak was strained, the college would be required to return to full remote learning with limited activity on campus. The local or state health department could also order colleges to stop on-campus activity “upon a finding of the college’s inability to control the outbreak, even under the metric.” It was not immediately clear how it would be determined whether a college was strained or unable to control an outbreak.

Mr. Cuomo also announced that he was sending “testing SWAT teams” to Western New York, where more than 100 new cases were reported Wednesday. Those testing teams will be able to turn around tests quickly, he said, and should be in place by this weekend.

The state was also “reviewing and monitoring” when it would allow malls to reopen and indoor dining to resume in New York City, and when to let casinos and movie theaters reopen across the state, Mr. Cuomo said.

“These are fluid situations depending on the facts,” he said. “We will make determinations at the appropriate time.”

Several Hungarian lawmakers are in quarantine, and at least one has been infected, amid a spike in cases.

Credit…Attila Kisbenedek/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A string of announcements by prominent Hungarian political figures Thursday indicated a recent spike in confirmed cases in the country has reached the upper echelons of the government. Four prominent politicians, including two ministers, have gone into quarantine, with one ranking party official announcing he had tested positive for the virus.

The Hungarian government, which is led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, drew significant criticism from the international community earlier this year following a decision by the parliament, which Mr. Orban’s party controls, to allow the prime minister to rule by decree in an effort to control the outbreak.

On Thursday, the prime minister’s office released a statement to Hungary’s state-run news service announcing that the minister overseeing the office of the prime minister, Gergely Gulyas, and a state secretary, Balazs Orban, had gone into quarantine after coming into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus.

Shortly after the announcement, István Hollik, a lawmaker and communications director for Mr. Orban’s party, announced on Facebook that he had tested positive. The justice minister, Judit Varga, also announced on Facebook that she had gone into quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

According to government data, new case levels have risen sharply over the past week, with 91 new cases registered Thursday — the highest number of recorded daily infections since April. Hungary has recorded more than 600 deaths from the virus.

The virus has infiltrated vulnerable, protected tribes living on islands in the Bay of Bengal.

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The authorities in Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal say they have recorded at least 10 cases of the virus in the endangered Greater Andamanese tribe, one of five vulnerable tribes living on the remote islands.

The islands are territories of India, and the country’s health officials said after six members of the Greater Andamanese tribe tested positive this month that medical workers tested nearly all 53 members of the aboriginal tribe.

Four more tribe members tested positive and were hospitalized in Port Blair, the capital. Dr. Avijit Roy, a health official, said the infection may have spread after the tribe came in contact with other islanders.

“They are very health conscious and are cooperating with doctors,” Dr. Roy said.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have recorded 2,985 cases of the virus and 41 deaths since the first infection was detected in early June.

India strictly monitors access to the tribes, and the groups living on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar are some of the most carefully guarded. The authorities now say their priority is to mass test other tribes in coming days.

India on Thursday recorded 75,760 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the country’s total number of cases above 3.3 million, out of a population of 1.3 billion. The country has recorded at least 60,000 deaths, and is now testing nearly a million people a day, according to the health ministry.

Reporting was contributed by Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Chelsea Brasted, Aurelien Breeden, Alexander Burns, Ben Casselman, Emily Cochrane, Choe Sang-Hun, Nick Cumming-Bruce, Abdi Latif Dahir, Concepción de León, Reid J. Epstein, Shawn Hubler, Hari Kumar, Alex Marshall, Jonathan Martin, Jesse McKinley, Sarah Mervosh, Claire Moses, Heather Murphy, Ben Novak, Richard C. Paddock, Adam Rasgon, Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas, Amanda Rosa, Brian M. Rosenthal, Dana Rubinstein, Christopher F. Schuetze, Dera Menra Sijabat, Jenna Smialek, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Lauren Wolfe, Katherine Wu, Sameer Yasir and Carl Zimmer.

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