Covid-19 Live Updates: Top U.S. Officials Instructed the C.D.C. to Change Testing Guidelines

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Credit…Go Nakamura for The New York Times

The C.D.C. was pressured to change guidance on testing asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was instructed by higher-ups within the Trump administration to modify 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, according to two federal health officials.

One official said the directive came from the top down. Another said the guidelines were not written by the C.D.C. but were imposed.

Admiral Brett M. Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing czar, told reporters the guidelines ultimately belong to the C.D.C., specifically its director, Dr. Robert Redfield. But he also said other members of President Trump’s coronavirus task force were involved.

“Let me tell you right up front that the new guidelines are a C.D.C. action,” Dr. Giroir said. “As always, guidelines received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts — and I mean the medical and scientific experts — including C.D.C. director Redfield and myself.”

The newest version of the guidelines, posted on Monday, amended the agency’s guidance to say that people who have been in close contact with an infected individual — typically defined as being within six feet of a person with the coronavirus and for at least 15 minutes — “do not necessarily need a test” if they do not have symptoms. Scientists and epidemiologists say people infected with the virus can spread it even if they show no symptoms.

Exceptions, the agency noted, might be made for “vulnerable” individuals, or if health care providers or state or local public health officials recommend testing.

Mr. Trump has suggested that the nation should do less testing, arguing that doing more tests was driving coronavirus case numbers up, making the United States look bad. But experts say the true measure of the pandemic is not case numbers, but test positivity rate — the percentage of tests coming back positive.

But Dr. Giroir denied that politics were involved.

“There was no weight on the scales by the president or the vice president or Secretary Azar,” he said, referring to Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services. “This was a product produced by the scientific and medical people that was discussed extensively at the task force.”

Experts have called the revisions alarming and dangerous, noting that the country needs more testing, not less. And they have expressed deep concern that the C.D.C. is posting guidelines that its own officials did not author. The former C.D.C. director, Tom Frieden, railed against the move on Twitter:

Case numbers remain persistently high across much of the United States, though they have been falling in recent weeks, to an average of about 42,000 new cases a day from a peak of more than 66,000 last month. Many of the states that saw the largest outbreaks in early summer are now reporting sustained progress, including Arizona and Florida. But parts of the Midwest, as well as Hawaii and some U.S. territories, are still seeing increases in new cases.

But Dr. Giroir made the case that getting tested soon after you are exposed to the virus is pointless because it can take several days for the virus to show on a test.

“A negative test on Day 2 doesn’t mean you’re negative,” he said. “So what is the value of that? It doesn’t mean on Day 4 you can go out and visit grandma or Day 6 go without a mask.” He added, “We’re trying to get appropriate testing, not less testing.”

N.Y.C.’s subway and bus service would be reduced by 40 percent without federal aid, M.T.A. warns.

Credit…Mark Wickens for The New York Times

Facing a staggering financial crisis and a stalemate in Washington, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority threatened on Wednesday to adopt a doomsday plan if it did not receive as much as $12 billion in federal aid, including slashing subway and bus service in New York City by 40 percent.

The plan paints a bleak picture for riders: Wait times would increase by eight minutes on the subway and 15 minutes on buses; Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains would run at 60- or 120-minute intervals. Upgrades to the subway’s signal systems, which have been the source of many delays, would be scrapped.

The M.T.A. — which runs the city’s subway, buses and the two commuter rails — laid out the plan as part of a broader political strategy to pressure Washington to provide assistance.

The state-run agency is facing a staggering $16.2 billion deficit through 2024, after the pandemic wiped out its operating revenue — which comes from fares, tolls and subsidies — virtually overnight. Ridership on the subway, which plummeted by 90 percent in April, has only reached a quarter of usual levels, even as more and more New Yorkers return to work.

The transit agency has requested $12 billion in aid to cover its operating losses through 2024. But after negotiations over the next stimulus package stalled earlier this month, immediate federal support did not appear to be forthcoming. Throughout the city, between the elbow bumps and happy hours, lurked a deep and intense anxiety over what might lie ahead, as summer gave way to autumn and a new rash of frightening unknowns. In interviews, New Yorkers, even as they leaned into summer activities and visited parks and cafes, shared a common foreboding that looked beyond the virus itself.

The Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents many M.T.A. workers, also decried the possibility of thousands layoffs, equating slashing the work force with the agency turning its back on its own essential workers.

Earlier this month, the agency borrowed $451 million from the Federal Reserve, becoming only the second state government borrower to use the program. It had also suspended all new capital projects designed to upgrade the system, though it had not identified the projects it had planned to eliminate until Wednesday.

The transit agency is not planning on taking any of these drastic steps before next year, officials say. But in recent weeks, it has come under fire from financial experts and some state lawmakers for not doing more to shore up its finances.

Jail time or a $569,000 fine: The price of breaking quarantine can be steep.

Credit…Lars Hagberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As countries work to contain fresh outbreaks, some are making good on threats of heavy fines and even jail time for those who breach quarantine rules or border restrictions.

In the latest example, a Kentucky man accused of breaking Canadian quarantine rules faces six months in prison, a $569,000 fine or perhaps both.

The man, John Pennington, was fined about $900 by the police in late June, after staff members at an Alberta hotel grew suspicious that he was breaking the province’s quarantine rules. The police later charged him with doing just that, after finding him at Sulphur Mountain, a tourist attraction.

Though the Canadian border is closed to the United States, a loophole allows Americans to travel to and from Alaska, providing they use a direct route, quarantine at hotels and refrain from visiting national parks, leisure sites or tourist attractions.

Separately, a 28-year-old woman in Australia was sentenced to six months in jail on Tuesday after she hid in the back of a truck on a cross-country journey of more than 1,800 miles from the state of Victoria, a coronavirus hot spot, to Western Australia. The police said that she was picked up by her partner at a gas station.

Western Australia’s pandemic rules include a 14-day mandatory quarantine for most travelers in a hotel, and the penalties for breaking them range from prison terms as long as 12 months to as much as $35,000 in fines.

The latest outbreak in Victoria, where the state capital, Melbourne, remains under lockdown, has been linked to breaches in a quarantine hotel, but people around the country have been trying to circumvent virus-related restrictions anyway. The police have also issued citations to travelers from hot spots like Sydney for lying on border declaration forms.

In July, Mika Salamanca, a social media influencer from the Philippines, was arrested in Honolulu, Hawaii for having broken the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. Ms. Salamanca was apprehended after posting images and videos out with friends within days of her arrival, leading a group of locals to report her to authorities.

A couple in Key West, Fla., was also arrested in late July for violating quarantine after testing positive, according to The Associated Press.

In Germany, early results of school reopenings are hopeful, but it’s ‘messy and imperfect.’

Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

As Americans anxiously debate how to reopen schools, and more campuses cancel in-person lessons, Europe is a living laboratory. Despite a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, even countries that were badly hit last spring, like Italy, Spain, Britain and France, are determined to return to regular classes this fall.

Germany, which was far less affected at the peak of the pandemic, shuttered schools early on, then moved to a hybrid model of remote and in-classroom learning. Class sizes were smaller, and strict social-distancing rules helped keep infection numbers in check.

And now a new experiment is underway: Teachers and students have been summoned back to classes, testing whether the new vigilance is enough.

Social distancing and face masks are mandatory on most school grounds, but rarely inside classrooms, despite recent advice from the World Health Organization that children 12 and over wear masks when distancing is impossible. If students had to wear masks for several hours a day, the argument in Germany goes, their ability to learn would suffer.

Instead, schools aim to better ventilate classrooms and keep classes separate so that each student has contact with only a few dozen others, and outbreaks can be contained.

Germany’s departure from the more cautious, part-time reopening strategy is rooted partly in resource constraints: Like most countries, it has too few teachers to split students into smaller classes and allow for social distancing.

But several weeks into returning to school, educators and even virologists who were skeptical about reopening say that early results look hopeful. Despite individual infections popping up in dozens of schools, there have been no serious outbreaks — and no lasting closures.

There have been more than 26,000 cases at hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S.

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A New York Times survey found more than 26,000 cases of the coronavirus at more than 750 American colleges and universities over the course of the pandemic. Clusters of cases have emerged in recent weeks in dorms, on Greek rows and at college bars, in some cases upending plans for the fall semester.

Seven universities, all of them large public schools in the South, have announced more than 500 cases each; more than 30 institutions nationwide have had at least 200 known cases. Already, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which reported more than 800 cases, has sent most undergraduates home. And Notre Dame, where more than 470 people have had the virus, has paused in-person classes and has restricted access to campus.

Many colleges have released extensive guidelines for social distancing, mask usage and testing in the hope of curbing outbreaks. But reports of large parties and discouraging test results have prompted rebukes from some administrators.

Stuart Bell, the University of Alabama president, warned in a note to students and employees this week that those who violated health restrictions were “subject to harsh disciplinary action, up to and including suspension.” More than 500 cases have already been identified on Alabama’s flagship campus in Tuscaloosa.

“Completing the fall semester together is our goal,” Mr. Bell said. “The margin for error is shrinking.”

Should I stay or should I go? When a storm threatens a virus hot spot, it may not be an easy call.

Credit…William Widmer for The New York Times

The decision to evacuate when a hurricane looms can be a difficult one in the best of circumstances. It becomes even more agonizing in the grip of a pandemic.

As Hurricane Laura roars toward Louisiana and Texas, many people living in the storm’s path, especially those with heightened vulnerability or with older relatives to care for, have had to weigh the risk of riding out the storm at home against the risk of exposure to the virus if they flee. Others lack the means to escape because their livelihoods have been eviscerated as the economy cratered.

Those two states were hit hard by the virus over the summer, though they have made some progress lately, with daily reports of new cases declining somewhat from their July peaks, according to a New York Times database. Louisiana has had more virus cases per capita than any other state in the country. And Arkansas, where it appears the storm will head next as it moves inland, has been struggling with rising deaths from the virus.

Like many of his neighbors, Chris Vinn of Lake Charles, La., got busy boarding up his house soon after officials issued a mandatory evacuation order. Mr. Vinn, who tested positive for the virus in July, and his family decided to leave, but not to an evacuation center. They booked an Airbnb about three hours’ drive away in Lafayette instead.

“We do try to take safety precautions as much as possible, so we did not want to be in a hotel full of people or run to a shelter or anything like that,” Mr. Vinn said. “It’s going to get us away from people and give us some privacy.”

Memories of another major storm, Hurricane Rita in 2005, kept Amy L’Hoste from evacuating from Lake Charles this time. She said she did not want to repeat the terrifying experience of riding out that storm at her grandparents’ house in Ragley, La., about 20 miles north. “I’ll never forget waking up the next morning, and it looked like a war zone,” she said.

This time, she said, she will hunker down on her own. “I go crabbing by myself, I go fishing by myself, I’ll go camping by myself — I have no problem with that,” Ms. L’Hoste said. “I’ll just add that to the list: Go through a hurricane.”

As of Wednesday morning, the State of Louisiana had evacuated about 900 people who lacked ready access to transportation out of the Lake Charles area to hotel rooms elsewhere, mostly around Baton Rouge, according to Mike Steele, a state spokesman.

Louisiana was also preparing to mark the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday. Unlike the storm’s 10th anniversary, when current and former presidents visited and the city drew international attention, the commemorations this year will be understated, mainly because of the pandemic.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Kenya’s president extends a nationwide 9 p.m. curfew for another 30 days.

Credit…Presidential Press Service/via Reuters

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has extended a nightly nationwide curfew aimed at curbing the pandemic as the virus burrows deeper into the East African nation.

In a speech delivered on Wednesday, Mr. Kenyatta said that while Kenyans were responsibly following Covid-19 protocols and infections had been reduced to a “manageable level,” the disease was still spreading.

“The new frontier of this invisible enemy is increasingly shifting to the counties and rural areas,” he said.

Kenya has so far reported 33,016 cases and 564 deaths from the virus.

The curfew runs from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., and will be extended for another 30 days. Mr. Kenyatta said that the closure of bars and nightclubs would continue for another month, and that restaurants should close at 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Investigations related to stolen funds at government medical agencies should conclude in the next three weeks, Mr. Kenyatta added. Allegations of impropriety had pushed public medical workers to go on strike last week, creating a dire health care crisis.

Mr. Kenyatta also lifted a ban on the secondhand clothing trade that the authorities had instituted in late March as a precautionary measure.

In other news from around the world:

  • The World Economic Forum is pushing back its annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, from January to early next summer, it announced on Wednesday. The annual gathering of the global elite in the Alps normally brings together about 3,000 of the world’s most prominent executives and political leaders. Organizers made the decision to postpone on the advice of experts, who said the gathering could not convene safely in January.

  • For the first time in three months, virus infections in South Africa have fallen below 2,000 per day. The country saw a peak of 13,944 daily cases in July, but recorded 1,677 on Monday and 1,567 on Tuesday. But as confirmed cases are decreasing, fewer tests are being carried out, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said this week.

  • The Vatican announced on Wednesday that, starting next month, Pope Francis would resume his weekly Wednesday audience in public, six months after the coronavirus put a halt to the pontiff’s participatory events with the faithful.

  • Days before schools are set to open in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that it would be “clearly nonsensical” for students to wear face masks in class. “You can’t teach with face coverings, you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings. The most important thing is just to wash your hands,” Mr. Johnson said. In areas where local lockdowns are in place, students and staff members will be required to wear masks in communal areas with the exception of classrooms, where the government said “protective measures already mean the risks are lower.”

  • North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has urged his government to eliminate “shortcomings” and “​defects” in its battle against Covid-19, state media reported. The country has reported no coronavirus infections, but outside experts are skeptical, citing its decrepit public health system and its proximity to China, where the virus was first detected.

  • Local authorities have tightened restrictions in Marseille, the second-largest city in France, where the per capita rate of cases is more than four times the national rate. Under the new rules, which begin on Wednesday night and will remain in effect until at least Sept. 30, wearing a mask will be mandatory throughout the city. Bars and restaurants in the Bouches-du-Rhône region, which includes Marseille, will have to close overnight.

The games have yet to begin, but so far the pandemic is beating college football.

Each day seems to bring a reminder of just how tenuous the truncated, diminished college football season remains, less than two weeks before it is scheduled to kick off into the teeth of a pandemic.

Some kickoffs are already being pushed back. North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, who were to play their Atlantic Coast Conference game on Sept. 12, said on Wednesday that the matchup would be postponed by two weeks, until Sept. 26, because of a cluster of cases within N.C. State’s athletic department.

Other programs are also struggling. Texas Tech announced on Tuesday that it had 21 active cases in its football program, and Coach Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma told reporters that an entire position group — except for one player — had to stop practicing because of positive test results.

N.C. State, which is in Raleigh, had announced earlier in the week that it was pausing athletic activities because of what it described as “an identified cluster within its programs.” But the pause, less than three weeks before what was to be the start of the Wolfpack’s season, stirred questions about whether the team would be ready to play at Virginia Tech, and whether students would be at greater risk for injury because of the suspension of preseason workouts.

Another telling moment came Monday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where University of Alabama officials reported that they had recorded more than 500 cases since Aug. 19.

The outbreaks in Tuscaloosa prompted the mayor to shut down bars for 14 days — which was either the price to be paid for past partying, or a sobering reminder that college football really, truly is in jeopardy if college kids don’t stop doing college-kid things.

When the Southeastern Conference reconfigured its football schedule over the summer, the start date was pushed back to Sept. 26. The Big 12 will also begin conference play on Sept. 26, but the Atlantic Coast Conference will start games on Sept. 10 to give its teams flexibility.

A study finds a clue about why the virus hits men harder than women.

Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

Older men are up to twice as likely to become severely sick and to die from the coronavirus as women of the same age.

Why? The first study to look at immune response by sex has turned up a clue: Men produce a weaker immune response to the virus than women, the researchers concluded.

The findings, published on Wednesday in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those over 60, may need to depend more on vaccines to protect against the infection.

“Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale who led the work.

The results are consistent with what’s known about sex differences following various challenges to the immune system. Women mount faster and stronger immune responses, perhaps because their bodies are rigged to fight pathogens that threaten unborn or newborn children.

The findings underscore the need for companies pursing vaccines to parse their data by sex and may influence decisions about dosing, said Dr. Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute and at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, and other experts.

“You could imagine scenarios where a single shot of a vaccine might be sufficient in young individuals or maybe young women, while older men might need to have three shots of vaccine,” Dr. Altfeld said.

Dr. Iwasaki’s team analyzed immune responses in 17 men and 22 women who were admitted to the hospital soon after they were infected. The researchers collected blood, nasopharyngeal swabs, saliva, urine and stool from the patients every three to seven days. The analysis excluded patients on ventilators and those taking drugs that affect the immune system.

u.s. roundup

Long shielded by geography, U.S. islands see cases grow.

Credit…Marie Eriel Hobro for The New York Times

American islands in the Caribbean and Pacific, including the state of Hawaii, are emerging as some of the nation’s most alarming virus hot spots.

For months, geographic isolation helped spare Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands from much of the agony unleashed by the pandemic. All adopted early mitigation efforts, and were able to restrict travelers more readily than mainland states could.

But their case counts are surging now, revealing how the virus can spread rapidly in places with relaxed restrictions, sluggish contact tracing and widespread pressure to end the economic pain that comes with lockdowns.

Inconsistent reopenings have sown confusion in Hawaii, especially in Honolulu, where gyms remain open but hiking trails and parks are closed. Restaurants in the city are open, but residents are not supposed to entertain visitors at home. Hawaii now ranks among the states where new cases have grown fastest over the past 14 days.

The situation on Guam, an American territory in the western Pacific, seems especially problematic. Cases are emerging in several schools, at the territorial port authority and in an emergency dispatch center.

The U.S. military has a major presence on Guam, with large naval and air bases. When the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was stricken with a virus outbreak in the spring, the ship put in to Guam, and hundreds of sailors were quarantined on shore.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, which registered almost no cases in the early days of the pandemic, is now dealing with nearly 1,000 new cases a day, pushing its per capita infection numbers higher than those of several states. The authorities are shutting nonessential businesses and imposing stay-at-home orders, checking all visitors’ temperatures and conducting aggressive testing of residents.

One exception to the crisis unfolding on U.S. islands: American Samoa, an archipelago in the Pacific, remains the only territory or state in the country without a single confirmed case.

In other news from around the United States:

  • New Mexico will allow indoor dining to resume on Saturday at restaurants, bars and similar establishments, at 25 percent of normal capacity, the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. Houses of worship will be allowed to operate at 40 percent of capacity, up from 25 percent now.

  • In a speech that struck a markedly different tone from others at the Republican National Convention, the first lady, Melania Trump, on Tuesday acknowledged the pandemic’s human toll and praised the efforts of frontline medical personnel and other essential workers.

  • In New Jersey, Gov. Philip D. Murphy said Wednesday that “if the data that we look at stays as good as it is,” he hoped that indoor dining could resume before mid-September. He added that there was no set date so “I’m not hanging my hat on it.” Movie theaters could be reopened around the same time, he said. Gyms, though, got a firm reopening date: Tuesday, with 25 percent capacity, masks and other rules. Health clubs in the state have been closed since March for everything other than personal training sessions.

  • Protesters flooded the Idaho State Capitol in Boise this week, many of them without wearing masks, to express frustration during a special legislative session called to address voting and liability laws amid the pandemic. Among the demonstrators was Ammon Bundy, once the leader of an armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, who was arrested on Tuesday by Idaho State Police after refusing to leave the space.

Reporting was contributed by Katrin Bennhold, Alan Blinder, Chelsea Brasted, Aurelien Breeden, Alexander Burns, Abdi Latif Dahir, Christina Goldbaum, Lauren Hirsch, Choe Sang-Hun, Mike Ives, Andrew Jacobs, Isabella Kwai, Alex Lemonides, Patrick J. Lyons, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jonathan Martin, Patricia Mazzei, Heather Murphy, Elian Peltier, Elisabetta Povoledo, Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Amanda Rosa, Anna Schaverien, Mitch Smith, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Tracey Tully, Billy Witz and Katherine J. Wu.

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