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Caputo will take a leave of absence from Health Department.
Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.
Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.
The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory Facebook outburst on Sept. 13 and disclosures that he and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic.
Mr. Caputo, a long-time Trump loyalist and the Department of Health and Human Services’s assistant secretary of public affairs, had apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II, the department’s leader, after his comments became public.
Since he was installed at the department last April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, has worked aggressively to develop a media strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But critics, including some within the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.
His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, was filled with ominous predictions of left-wing “hit squads” plotting armed insurrection after the election and attacks on C.D.C. scientists, who he said had formed a “resistance unit” determined to undercut Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election. He accused the scientists of “rotten science” and said they “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants” except to plot against the president at coffee shops.
Several high-ranking Democrats on Monday called for Mr. Caputo’s firing, including Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who helps lead a key health committee, and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who leads a subcommittee that funds health programs. On Tuesday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, called on Mr. Azar to resign, saying “he’s been almost entirely silent about the chaos and mismanagement in his own agency.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Redfield calls Caputo’s comments on C.D.C. ‘false accusations’ and said they ‘deeply saddened me.’
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a Senate panel Wednesday morning that he was “deeply saddened” by comments a top health communications official made about government scientists committing “sedition” and harboring a “resistance unit” to take down President Trump. Not long after the hearing ended, news broke that Mr. Caputo was taking a leave of absence.
Dr. Redfield told the panel that a spate of conspiracies alleged in a Facebook video filmed by Mr. Caputo, the top spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, were “false accusations” offensive to career officials at his agency.
“C.D.C. is made up of thousands of dedicated men and women, highly competent,” he said. “It is the premier public health agency in the world.”
Mr. Caputo apologized to his staff members on Tuesday for embarrassing the health department.
Dr. Redfield was testifying for the first time since news reports outlined how political appointees at the health and human services department in Washington — including Mr. Caputo — tried to tamper with key C.D.C. coronavirus reports, revelations that prompted outrage from current and former health officials and public health experts.
Mr. Caputo and a colleague pushed the C.D.C. to delay and edit closely-guarded and apolitical C.D.C. health bulletins, called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, in an effort to paint the administration’s pandemic response in a more positive light.
Ms. Murray, the top Democrat on the health panel, said at the hearing that it was “dangerous and unprecedented that political appointees are editing, censoring and ultimately undermining a report that is intended to give families, public health pros, researchers and health care providers what they need: the truth.”
Dr. Redfield pledged that “at no time has the scientific integrity of the M.M.W.R. been compromised.”
“We’re not going to let political influence try to modulate that,” he said. “The scientific integrity of the M.M.W.R. has not been compromised and will not be compromised on my watch.”
Dr. Redfield was defending what many view as a hobbled C.D.C., which has repeatedly faced criticism during the pandemic for bowing to pressure from the White House and other agencies to water down its guidance, and for moving slowly in the early months of the pandemic to contain the outbreak in the United States.
At another point in the hearing, Dr. Redfield was asked when a coronavirus vaccine might be available to the public. He estimated one could be available for limited use by the end of the year, and for wider distribution by the middle of 2021, an estimate that echoed what other top health officials, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, have used in recent weeks.
And even if a vaccine were available now, Dr. Redfield said, it could take six to nine months to get enough Americans vaccinated for there to be widespread immunity.
His comments contradicted Mr. Trump, who said at a town hall event with ABC News on Tuesday that a vaccine could be ready within “three weeks, four weeks.”
In a reversal, the Big Ten Conference will try to play football in 2020.
The Big Ten Conference said Wednesday that it would try to play football as soon as the weekend of Oct. 23, stepping back from its leadership’s decision just more than a month ago not to compete this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The move by chancellors and presidents representing the Big Ten’s 14 universities will quell some of the pressure — from prominent coaches, parents, players, fans and even President Trump — faced by the first Power 5 league to drop plans for football in 2020. But it is also likely to provoke new outrage from those who will believe the league is prioritizing profits, entertainment and a measure of public relations peace over health and safety.
In a statement on Wednesday morning, the league said players, coaches, trainers and others who are on playing and practice fields would undergo daily testing for the virus, and that any player who tested positive would be barred from games for at least 21 days.
Leagues that have returned to play, like the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12, have so far found it tricky to navigate the epidemiological perils of the pandemic. A handful of games have been postponed, some teams have held out players because of positive tests or contact tracing and stadiums are operating with fewer spectators in the stands or none at all.
Now the Big Ten is poised to try to join them, potentially salvaging the seasons of some of the most renowned and lucrative names in college sports, including Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Complicating matters, health officials near some Big Ten campuses, including Michigan State and Wisconsin, have begun cracking down or threatening harsh penalties against students for partying. The issue is likely to be exacerbated by the allure of tailgates — sanctioned or not — ahead of fall football games.
It was only on Aug. 11 that the league, which had already moved to a conference-only schedule, said it would not compete until at least 2021.
The U.S. says it plans to start distributing a vaccine within 24 hours of approval.
Federal officials outlined details Wednesday of their preparations to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to Americans, saying they will begin distribution within 24 hours of any approval or emergency authorization, and that their goal is that no American “has to pay a single dime” out of their own pocket.
The officials, who are part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed — the multiagency effort to quickly make a coronavirus vaccine available to Americans — also said the timing of a vaccine is still unclear.
“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty. We don’t know the timing of when we’ll have a vaccine, we don’t know the quantities, we don’t know the efficacy of those vaccines,” said Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The officials said they were planning for initial distribution of a vaccine — perhaps on an emergency basis, and to a limited group of high-priority people such as health care workers — in the final three months of this year and into next year. The Department of Defense is providing logistical support to plan how the vaccines will be shipped and stored as well as how to keep track of who has gotten the vaccine and whether they have gotten one or two doses.
Mr. Mango also said that, although the details were still being worked out, the government is aiming to provide the vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost to Americans. All of the companies that are closest to bringing a vaccine to market have reached billion-dollar deals with the federal government either to help them develop their candidate or to buy the doses for distribution to the public.
The government is also working on setting up a database that would seek to sort out the complicated process of immunizing potentially millions of Americans and keeping track of when they needed a second dose, and of which vaccine.
Three drug makers are testing vaccine candidates in late-stage trials in the United States. One of those companies, Pfizer, has said that it could apply for emergency authorization as early as October, while the other two, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have said they hope to have something before the end of the year.
Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue will remain closed over the Jewish high holidays, for the first time in its history.
The Jerusalem Great Synagogue, the venerable institution where Israeli prime ministers and presidents have prayed, announced on its website on Wednesday that it would remain shuttered over the Jewish high holidays for the first time in its more than half-century of history.
With Israel’s infection rates having spiraled to among the worst in the world, the government has mandated a second, nationwide lockdown to begin on Friday afternoon, hours before the eve of the Jewish New Year holiday, and to last at least three weeks, extending to the fast day of Yom Kippur and the festival Sukkot.
The government issued new guidelines this week allowing limited numbers of worshipers to pray inside synagogues during the holy days. But the Board of Trustees of the Great Synagogue, which has been closed since the first lockdown in March, said its decision “followed long deliberations, taking into consideration the lack of knowledge, the confusion, the debates among experts, and the changing government guidelines.”
Founded on a nearby site in 1958, a few blocks from downtown West Jerusalem, the Great Synagogue moved to its present location in the 1980s.
Zalli Jaffe, the president of the synagogue, said some 1,700 people would typically squeeze into the sanctuary for the closing service at the end of Yom Kippur, the annual day of atonement.
Israeli schools are closing on Thursday, less than three weeks after they reopened in a limited format. The country’s effort to reopen schools in May ended badly.
An experimental drug is showing promise in reducing blood levels of the virus for newly infected patients.
A single infusion of an experimental drug has markedly reduced blood levels of the coronavirus in newly infected patients and lowered the chances that they will need hospitalization, the drug’s maker announced on Wednesday.
The drug is a monoclonal antibody, a man-made copy of an antibody produced by a patient who recovered from Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Many scientists hope that monoclonal antibodies will prove to be powerful treatments for Covid-19, but they are difficult to manufacture and progress has been slow.
The announcement, by Eli Lilly, was not accompanied by detailed data; independent scientists have not yet reviewed the results, nor have they been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The findings are the interim results of a trial sponsored by Eli Lilly and the National Institutes of Health. Officials at the N.I.H. declined to comment until they have more thoroughly reviewed the data.
According to Eli Lilly, 452 newly diagnosed patients received the monoclonal antibody or a placebo infusion. Some 1.7 percent of those who got the drug were hospitalized, compared with 6 percent of those who received a placebo — a 72 percent reduction in risk.
Blood levels of the coronavirus plummeted among participants who received the drug, and their symptoms were fewer, compared with those who got the placebo.
Every treatment so far shown to help coronavirus patients — the antiviral drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone — is intended only for seriously ill hospitalized patients. Those with mild to moderate disease have had to wait and hope for the best.
Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he was impressed.
“It’s exciting,” said Dr. Cohen, who was not involved in the study. The clinical trial appears to be rigorous, and the results are “really compelling.”
Other companies, too, are developing monoclonal antibody drugs to combat the coronavirus, he noted: “This is the opening of a door.”
Colleges are cracking down on Greek life, and some even canceling spring break, as outbreaks spread.
As colleges struggle to contain coronavirus outbreaks, administrators and local health authorities are cracking down on fraternities and sororities, putting them under quarantine orders or threatening harsh sanctions for partying.
In Ingham County, Mich., home to Michigan State University, local health authorities ordered residents of nearly two dozen fraternity and sorority houses, as well as several other group houses, to quarantine for 14 days after the university reported 160 new Covid cases last week.
Members will be allowed to leave only for medical care or other necessities that can’t be delivered. Violations will constitute a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $200, the order, from the Ingham County Health Department, said.
“While we know many students are doing the right thing, we are still seeing far too many social gatherings in the off-campus community, where individuals are in close contact without face coverings,” Mayor Aaron Stephens of East Lansing said on Saturday of the order.
The issue is likely to get only more complicated as schools in the Big Ten, including Michigan State, consider playing football this fall.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is also a part of the Big Ten and had a sharp uptick in cases last week, local health authorities ordered all Greek organizations with one or more cases among their live-in members to quarantine. The order applied to almost two dozen organizations. The university also paused all in-person instruction for two weeks and ordered students in two residence halls to quarantine and get tested.
And at SUNY Oswego, which recorded 70 new cases since Saturday, officials warned students that any parties hosted by fraternity or sorority members, even if not technically sponsored by their Greek organizations, would still lead to “severe individual and organizational penalties.”
While there is no comprehensive data on outbreaks in Greek houses around the country, a few states have tracked clusters linked to fraternities and sororities. Kansas has reported active clusters of cases in seven fraternities and sororities at Kansas State University, including one fraternity in which 19 people have been infected. Colorado has identified a cluster of eight confirmed and five probable cases among people who attended events at the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Colorado State University. And Michigan has identified several outbreaks in Greek housing at Michigan Technological University.
While they grapple with current outbreaks, universities are also taking steps to prevent future ones. In recent days, several universities, including the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have announced that they are canceling spring break, when students often travel to places like Florida and spend a week partying.
Russia’s vaccine finds a customer in an Indian company.
Russia’s vaccine, which has been approved by the government but not yet fully tested for safety and efficacy, won a new customer on Wednesday in India, according to a Russian financial company backing the vaccine.
With a flurry of announcements, Russian officials have been promoting the vaccine while raising doubts about the safety of several Western-made alternatives. Other countries have not, however, followed Russia’s lead in registering the Russian vaccine for use by the public before completing trials.
The Indian company, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, agreed first to cooperate on clinical trials and, if they are successful, to buy 100 million doses, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said in a joint statement with the company. It said deliveries could begin later this year, “subject to completion of successful trials” and registration in India.
“Partners will receive an effective and safe drug to fight the coronavirus,” Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, said in the statement. The Russian vaccine is made from a common human cold virus, called an adenovirus, genetically modified to include proteins from the new coronavirus.
The Russian vaccine showed promising results and no serious side effects in early trials. Historically, some vaccine candidates that raised hopes early on have ultimately failed to prevent disease or have caused side effects. The only way to rigorously test a vaccine for safety and disease-preventing effects is through a large and placebo-controlled clinical trial.
Participants for the late-stage trial in Russia received the first of two shots on Sept. 9. An American database of clinical trials shows that the organizers reported that the study of 40,000 people would end six months from now.
Also on Wednesday, a group of health professionals in Turkey received their first dose of a Chinese-made vaccine, the Demiroren news agency reported. The vaccine, produced by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, has been administered to thousands of people around the world in ongoing clinical trials. Turkey has recorded nearly 300,000 cases of the coronavirus, which works out to 358 cases per 100,000 people, with at least 7,100 deaths.
Not all N.Y.C. public school students will get daily live instruction while they’re remote.
Just hours before New York City’s 1.1 million students logged on for virtual school orientation on Wednesday morning, the Department of Education announced a last-minute change to how children will learn when classes officially start on Monday.
The city announced earlier in the summer that all schools would be required to provide at least some live instruction to all students on every day they were learning at home. Principals and teachers have been warning for weeks that there were simply not enough teachers to educate students in-person and online; different teachers have to instruct each cohort. The city finally acknowledged the enormous staffing crunch, which the principals’ union estimated could be as large as 10,000 educators, with Tuesday night’s announcement.
For students in the hybrid education model, which involves physically attending school one to three days per week and learning remotely the rest of the time, the new rule will no longer require schools to provide daily live instruction when those students are remote. The roughly 40 percent of students who have chosen to learn remotely full-time will still get live instruction each day. Students can switch to full remote learning at any time.
When the students in the hybrid model do not receive live instruction, they might instead watch a prerecorded video of a lesson, or complete assignments on their own time. The city also said that if schools have enough staff to provide daily live instruction on days when hybrid students are at home, they should do so.
The city’s mayor has argued that reopening schools for in-person instruction is crucial for the city’s hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children who were largely failed by remote learning. But the scarcity of both in-person instruction and live teaching has frustrated many parents.
On Wednesday, the mayor said that the city would add more teachers throughout the fall to provide live instruction.
“What happens the first day is not the same as how things are two weeks or four weeks later,” he said, adding, “we’re going to make adjustments.”
N.Y.C.’s mayor is furloughing his City Hall staff for one week.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced that he is furloughing his own staff at City Hall, himself included.
The policy would affect 495 mayoral staff members, who would have to take an unpaid, weeklong furlough at some point between October and March 2021. The mayor intends to work during his furlough without pay, his spokesman said.
With the impact of the pandemic on the economy, he warned that he would have to lay off 22,000 employees should the unions, working with the city, fail to find such savings; should the state fail to grant New York City the authority to finance its operations with up to $5 billion in long-term debt; or should the federal government fail to provide assistance.
The furloughs would yield $860,000 in anticipated savings, but the move has symbolic implications and could be a precursor to similar maneuvers to slash the budget.
Retail sales in the U.S. increased for the fourth straight month, but the rate is slowing.
U.S. retail sales climbed for the fourth straight month in August but the rate of increase continued to slow, another sign that the recovery from the pandemic-induced economic contraction remains fragile.
Consumer spending drove a 0.6 percent increase in sales last month, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday, as Americans continued to spend on home computers, new cars and online groceries. Spending in July was revised down to 0.9 percent.
The continued slow rise in spending has occurred against a grim economic backdrop that grew even darker as the $600-a-week supplemental unemployment assistance expired and Congress failed to agree on new stimulus measures. Unemployment declined but stayed high as huge sectors of the economy — like hospitality, food service and travel — remained largely shut down.
Still, the recovery continued to be strong for some retailers, even as others have struggled.
Sales at most apparel chains and department stores have tumbled during the pandemic. In the past six weeks, Lord & Taylor and Century 21, a staple of bargain apparel shopping in New York, joined the growing list of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy. Both plan to liquidate.
Yet national chains like Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and West Elm have reported revenue jumps this summer, with many Americans spending more on goods that they could use at home or while socially distancing outdoors. Dick’s reported a record quarter last month, fueled by outdoor activities like golf, camping and running.
India quickly surpasses 5 million cases.
India’s overall caseload surpassed five million on Tuesday, less than a month after hitting the three million mark.
More than 82,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, but, per capita, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population.
India reported 90,123 new cases on Tuesday, and its seven-day daily average of new cases is more than 92,000.
The country took a hard line early, placing all of its citizens under a national lockdown that was considered largely effective, and was widely obeyed. Restrictions began being lifted in May as economic pressures led its leaders to prioritize reopenings and accept the risks of surging coronavirus infections.
But the country’s public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds. Crowded cities, lockdown fatigue and a lack of contact tracing are contributing factors for the virus’s spread, which has reached every corner of the country of 1.3 billion people.
India’s total caseload has become the world’s second-largest, behind that of the United States.
In other developments around the world:
A health official from Madrid’s regional government warned that the capital was preparing to impose “selective lockdowns” in districts where the number of cases has recently risen significantly. The minister, Antonio Zapatero, said that the region needed “to flatten the curve” urgently, before the arrival of colder weather that could help spread the virus faster. Spain registered an average of 8,000 new cases a day over the past week, about a third of them in Madrid.
Germany agreed to take in more than 1,500 refugees now living in Greece, days after blazes destroyed the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos. Roughly 12,000 people were left homeless by the fires, which the authorities said were set by residents after protests over virus lockdown measures. The move was seen as a challenge to other wealthy European nations to help mitigate the crisis.
Six months after locking down the country to curb the spread of the virus, Nepal is starting to welcome back trekkers and mountaineers. The decision is aimed at reviving the country’s ailing economy, which is heavily dependent on mountain tourism. Trekkers visiting Nepal will have to produce a documentation showing they have tested negative before flying to the country. And they will have to quarantine before traveling to tourist destinations. The country has reported nearly 60,000 cases, or 208 per 100,000 people, and less than 400 deaths.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Alan Blinder, Michael Corkery, Melissa Eddy, Mike Ives, Isabel Kershner, Andrew E. Kramer, Gina Kolata, Sapna Maheshwari, Raphael Minder, Benjamin Mueller, Richard C. Paddock, Linda Qiu, Gretchen Reynolds, Dana Rubinstein, Eliza Shapiro, Bhadra Shrama, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Glenn Thrush, Marc Tracy, Noah Weiland and Sameer Yasir.
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