Outbreaks at U.S. Colleges Force Sudden Changes and Send Students Scrambling: Covid-19 Live Updates

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A new C.D.C. report suggests that child-care centers may reopen safely in areas where the virus is contained.

A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests child-care centers may reopen safely in areas where the virus is low. It’s a promising finding that may offer a glimmer of hope for the parents of millions of children around the United States who are out of school and unlikely to return to in-person learning anytime soon.

Schools and child-care are the key to the country’s long path back to normalcy, helping jump start the struggling economy by allowing more parents to return to work.

The report published Friday documents just 52 coronavirus infections in child-care centers in Rhode Island over a two-month period in which hundreds of centers were authorized to reopen.

In a call with reporters on Friday, the C.D.C.’s. director, Dr. Robert Redfield, credited adherence to measures like mandatory masks for adults, daily screening of symptoms in both adults and children, and thorough cleaning and physical distancing.

In Rhode Island, child-care centers reopened in June after a three-month closure. By July 31, the state had authorized 666 centers with a combined capacity of 18,945 children to open. The state initially required the centers to limit enrollment to groups of 12 people, including staff, but later raised the limit to 20 people.

The state found 30 children and 22 adults with probable or confirmed infections across 29 centers as of July 31. Twenty of the centers had a single case, with no evidence of further spread.

However, 39 of the total 52 infections were reported in the final two weeks of the study period, when the percentage of cases in the state was also on the rise, making the report most applicable to areas with low levels of virus.

“It’s more of a challenge in communities with high transmission,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the C.D.C.’s community interventions.

The cases had a significant impact on the child-care centers. Classes in which a symptomatic person was identified were required to close for 14 days or until the case could be ruled out by a negative test. The practice resulted in 853 children and staff members being quarantined.

But even in New York City, where transmission rates are so low that the mayor is considering reopening schools, officials have found that having the virus under control is only the first step to reopening schools.

As college students return to U.S. campuses, some schools are already hastily rewriting their plans for the fall. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michigan State and Drexel University will now hold most fall classes online, and Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh are among several that have abruptly suspended in-person classes for the coming weeks.

Some of these schools have already had sizable coronavirus outbreaks. The New York Times has identified more than 17,000 cases at more than 650 American colleges and universities over the months.

The last-minute changes left many students scrambling. Some had already moved to campus or signed leases for off-campus housing. Others said they would have rather returned to class when in-person instruction resumed.

“I think I probably would have taken a gap year, but just because everything was so last minute, it’s really hard to make plans,” said Karthik Jetty, an incoming freshman at Stanford, where plans to bring freshmen to campus were recently scuttled.

Universities have been preparing for this for months, but some factors are out of their control.

At Oberlin College, administrators postponed in-person classes because of virus testing delays. At Notre Dame, large outbreaks blamed on student gatherings drove the school to suspend in-person classes and restrict student gatherings. But a newspaper, run by students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s and Holy Cross, criticized the three institutions in a front-page editorial under the stark headline “Don’t make us write obituaries.”

And at Drexel, where coursework was moved online, officials said local school districts’ decisions not to hold classes would have made it difficult for university employees with children to come to campus.

“Despite all of our preparation,” said John Fry, Drexel’s president, “we have always understood that our approach would need to be continually assessed, taking into account new data and changing conditions.”

Europe’s initial strategy against the virus — nearly universal, strictly enforced lockdowns — eventually worked. And in the two months since most European countries reopened, testing and tracing have largely kept new outbreaks in check. With basic rules on wearing masks and social distancing, life has been able to resume with some semblance of normality.

But in recent days France, Germany and Italy have each experienced their highest daily case counts since the spring, and Spain finds itself in the midst of a major outbreak. Government authorities and public health officials are warning that the continent is entering a new phase in the pandemic.

To be sure, the new cases in Europe are still quite low compared to parts of the United States, according to a Times database. For example, Florida has reported an average of 147 new cases a day per 100,000 people over the past week, whereas Italy is seeing an average of six new cases a day per 100,000 people. Germany is seeing nine new cases a day per every 100,000 and France is seeing 14.

But there are growing concerns that with the summer drawing to a close, the virus could find a new foothold as people move their lives indoors and the fall flu season begins.

The increase in cases in Europe, as in many other parts of the world, is being driven in part by young people: The proportion of people age 15 to 24 who are infected in Europe has risen from around 4.5 percent to 15 percent in the last five months, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Hans Kluge, its director for Europe, said on Thursday that he was “very concerned” that people under age 24 were regularly appearing among new cases.

“Low risk does not mean no risk,” he said. “No one is invincible, and if you do not die from Covid, it may stick to your body like a tornado with a long tail.”

President Trump hinted on Friday that he plans to brag next week during his speech at the Republican convention about the way his administration has responded to the coronavirus.

During remarks to the Council for National Policy, a conservative group of supporters in Arlington, Va., Mr. Trump said he had done “a great job” dealing with the pandemic, and that he planned to talk about that during his acceptance speech.

“If you look at Florida, if you look at Arizona, you look at California those numbers are going down very rapidly,” he said. “Many, many states have very little problem. You know, you look at a map, now it’s largely, really in good shape. I mean, I’m going to talk about it in my speech on Thursday. We’ve done a great job.”

In fact, the president’s response to the pandemic has been widely condemned as weak, ineffective and motivated by politics instead of science. Cases numbers remain persistently high across the country and more than 174,000 people have died related to the virus.

Case numbers in Arizona and Florida, which surged to record levels early this summer, have indeed fallen in recent weeks. In California, a state that has been plagued by data reporting failures, case numbers have been relatively flat.

In recent days, death figures in Florida were near peak levels, but in Arizona, fatalities had decreased and in California, they had dropped slightly.

Medical experts have said Mr. Trump ignored and dismissed the virus until it was too late, then pushed too quickly to reopen the country, allowing it to surge in some areas again. The United States was slow to develop testing capacity and the president early on mocked the idea of wearing a mask to prevent its spread, an idea that doctors say is now a vital part of the response.

Democrats focused much of their attention on Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic during their four-day convention that culminated on Thursday with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. accepting the party’s nomination for president.

“The tragedy of where we are today is it didn’t have to be this bad,” Mr. Biden said in his speech. “Just look around. It’s not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world. The president keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear. He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him, no miracle is coming.”

Mr. Trump shrugged off the criticisms on Friday.

“We have not been recognized for what we’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve done a great job.”

Trump’s unemployment assistance program faces funding and distribution problems.

Two weeks have passed since Mr. Trump announced that he would sidestep a congressional stalemate to deliver extra weekly benefits to tens of millions of unemployed Americans — a short-term fix meant to replace the $600-a-week emergency federal supplement that expired last month.

Since then, as more details of the plan — known as Lost Wages Assistance — have emerged, so have problems with finding the funding and getting it to the hands of those who need it. Here’s what we know:

  • The federal government is offering an extra $300 a week — not the promised $400 — to unemployed workers and Mr. Trump is using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which typically provides disaster relief. The additional $100 was supposed to be supplied by states, but most are struggling to meet other expenses. Tax revenues have been sinking at the same time that costs — like precautions to curb the spread of the coronavirus — have soared.

  • Not everyone will get the extra assistance. Only people who qualify to receive at least $100 in unemployment benefits each week — either through the regular state program or a federal pandemic assistance program — are eligible for the extra federal funds. And there are widespread delays in getting the program off the ground. Each state is supposed to administer the new supplement, but most states have not yet had their programs approved and many have not yet applied.

  • There are widespread delays. Each state is supposed to administer the new supplement, just as they process regular state unemployment insurance and federal pandemic jobless benefits, but most states have not yet had their programs approved and many have not yet applied. And by Thursday, only one state, Arizona, had started paying out.

Israel will start using a new pooled testing procedure in hopes of faster results.

A team of three Israeli scientists has pioneered a virus testing procedure that they say is faster and more efficient than any now in use, testing samples in pools of as many as 48 people at once.

The Israeli government plans to roll out the new method in 12 labs across the country by October, anticipating that another wave could coincide with influenza season with potentially calamitous results.

The method could allow schools, college campuses, businesses and airlines to clear whole groups of people far faster than has been possible until now, experts said.

“It’s a huge game-changer,” said Moran Szwarcwort Cohen, who runs the virology lab at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa and was not involved in the new research.

Pooled testing has received much attention in the United States as inundated labs struggle to cope with backlogs and shortages of chemicals, pipette tips and other supplies.

Most pooling efforts elsewhere are relying on a simplistic approach for testing pools of samples from several people at once. If the pool tests negative, then all individuals are considered negative. If the pool tests positive, then additional samples from each individual must be retested to see which are positive.

The new Israeli method, by contrast, is designed to only require one round of testing — a crucial savings in time, laboratory work flow and supplies.

It accomplishes that with a combinatorial algorithm, as described in a study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances. In one typical iteration, the Israeli team took samples of 384 people and divided them into 48 pools, so that each person’s sample wound up in a unique set of six pools.

Each of the 48 pools was then tested. If one person was positive, then each of the six pools containing that sample should test positive — resulting in a unique combination of positive pools revealing the identity of the person (or people) carrying the virus.

Like all types of pooled testing, the usefulness of this method drops as a community’s “positivity rate” — the proportion of tests that come back positive — climbs.

Hong Kong will roll out voluntary coronavirus tests for citizens over a period of two weeks starting on Sep. 1, Carrie Lam, the city’s pro-Beijing leader, said on Friday, crediting the Chinese government for making the large-scale testing possible.

The mainland authorities will provide staff and services to testing laboratories, Mrs. Lam said. The free, one-time testing program has raised privacy concerns among Hong Kong’s activists and residents, who fear it could lead to the harvesting of DNA samples. The local government, grappling with public distrust after a year of protests, has denied the accusation.

“Our objective is to encourage as many Hong Kong people to come forward to receive this free-of-charge testing, so that they can be assured of their own situation and they can help us and help society to recover as soon as possible,” Mrs. Lam said, calling it a “civic responsibility of every Hong Kong citizen.”

About 150 swabbing stations will be set up across the city, the South China Morning Post reported.

Hong Kong is battling its most severe wave yet, although the daily tally has gradually eased after a peak in July; 27 new cases were reported on Friday.

In other developments around the world:

  • After experiencing temporary shortages of medical masks early in the pandemic and a threat from President Trump to cut off future supplies, the Canadian government and the provincial government in Ontario said they would each give the equivalent of about $17.5 million to Canada’s subsidiary of Minnesota-based 3M to produce N95 respirators. 3M will invest a similar amount in its Brockville, Ontario factory, allowing it to produce 50 million to 100 million masks a year.

  • The Colombian government said that beginning on Friday, the authorities in Venezuela would suspend re-entry for citizens attempting to return via the Simón Bolívar Bridge, a major crossing point along the two countries’ porous border. Venezuelans who have streamed home in recent months after losing jobs in Colombia and elsewhere have been held by their government in makeshift containment centers, as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s effort to deploy his repressive security apparatus against the virus.

  • Ireland’s agriculture minister, Dara Calleary, resigned after he broke public health guidelines by attending a gathering of more of 80 people this week.

  • British authorities extended a ban on evictions for another four weeks in England and Wales. Without the ban, nearly 230,000 adult renters would be in danger of losing their homes, according to the charity Shelter. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the ban has been extended to March.

  • The race to contain the coronavirus has drained resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hampering the fight against a growing ebola outbreak there, the World Health Organization said. Covid-19 has killed 248 people and infected 9,802 others in the country, according to a New York Times database. Ebola cases have reached 100, and 43 people have died.

  • More than 300 doctors in Nairobi went on strike over what they say are delayed salaries and substandard personal protective equipment, precipitating a health crisis in the hard-hit Kenyan city.

  • In the war-torn Rakhine State in Myanmar — the site of pogroms against Rohingya Muslims that United Nations officials have likened to genocide — at least 18 people have tested positive, state officials said. On Friday, the Rakhine government imposed a two-month curfew, shutting schools and suspending flights. A stay-at-home notice has been issued.

  • A new documentary, “Coronation,” remotely directed from Europe by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, pulls together video shot by dozens of assistants to portray the human costs of the Chinese government’s draconian lockdown on Wuhan, the epicenter of the global pandemic.

  • South Korea threatened “​maximum” criminal penalties​ ​and arrests for people who impede the government’s disease-control efforts, as it reported 324 new case on Friday, the highest daily total since early March.

U.S. Roundup

The pandemic has pushed the U.S. across a line that debt hawks have warned of for decades.

Economists and deficit hawks have warned for decades that the United States was borrowing too much money. The federal debt was ballooning so fast, they said, that economic ruin was inevitable: Interest rates would skyrocket, taxes would rise and inflation would probably run wild.

The death spiral could be triggered once the debt surpassed the size of the U.S. economy — a turning point that was probably still years in the future.

It actually happened much sooner: sometime before the end of June.

The pandemic, and the economic collapse that followed, unleashed a historic run of government borrowing: trillions of dollars for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance expansions and loans to prop up small businesses and to keep big companies afloat.

But the economy hasn’t drowned in the flood of red ink — and there’s a growing sense that the country could take on even more without any serious consequences.

“At this stage, I think, nobody is very worried about debt,” said Olivier Blanchard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “It’s clear that we can probably go where we are going, which is debt ratios above 100 percent in many countries. And that’s not the end of the world.”

Since the 2008 financial crisis, traditional thinking about borrowing by governments — at least those that control their own currencies — has weakened as central banks in major developed markets became enormous buyers in government bond markets.

In other news around the country:

  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is defending his first three months of overseeing the Postal Service before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Friday, and denouncing what he described as a “false narrative” that had emerged about his tenure. Mr. DeJoy contends that a series of cost-cutting measures intended to help improve efficiency have been misconstrued “into accusations that we are degrading the service provided to election mail.”

  • A Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets this weekend has been postponed because a Mets player and a staff member tested positive. At first, only Friday’s game between the teams was called off. But Major League Baseball said Friday that the entire three-game series at Citi Field, the first meeting of the teams in the abbreviated baseball season, was being postponed “out of an abundance of caution and to allow for additional testing and contact tracing to be performed” within the Mets organization.

  • On Friday, New Hampshire’s governor relaxed indoor dining restrictions for the entire state. “Effective immediately, restaurants can go to 100 percent capacity for indoor dining,” he said. “Tables will still be required to be six feet apart, and all other public health guidelines remain in effect.”

  • The Kentucky Derby, already delayed by four months, will be run Sept. 5 without fans in attendance, officials announced Friday. The race’s organizers had hoped to allow a reduced number of fans, but said an increase in cases in and near Louisville forced them to reconsider. Fans at the Derby have been a key part of its tradition, many wearing elaborate millinery or seersucker suits while drinking bourbon cocktails.

  • The Tony Awards ceremony will be online this year, theater officials said on Friday — a decision that was months in the making after the season was cut short in March because of the virus. The suite of eligible awardees have not yet been finalized. Before pandemic interruptions, the ceremony was initially scheduled for June 7 at Radio City Music Hall.

  • Tennessee on Friday reported 58 new deaths, a single-day record for the state.

New York City would give away free air-conditioners this summer to low-income older people who are stuck indoors, 74,000 by the end of July, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. But workers had installed about 55,800 units by mid-August — about three-fourths of the city’s goal.

There were problems with some installations. Community groups say the program is disorganized and did not reach everyone it could. One center gave up waiting and bought dozens of air-conditioners on its own. The difficulty in getting a free air-conditioner left many seniors frustrated and confused by what they described as a bureaucratic, inefficient process.

Linda Rios, who is in her 80s and lives at the Stephen Wise Towers on the Upper West Side, got an air-conditioner after “months of pushing.” But when the workers arrived, they were too forceful and broke her window, she said.

New York City has more than 1 million residents who are 65 and older — about 14 percent of the city’s population. About 11 percent of white people over 65 live below the poverty line, compared with 28 percent of Hispanic seniors, 23 percent of Asian seniors and 18 percent of Black seniors, according to a report by the city comptroller.

During the pandemic, many older people have been afraid to leave their apartments. Senior centers, where residents could gather to cool off and play bingo or mahjong, closed in March. In the United States, heat kills older people more than any other extreme weather event, including hurricanes, and the problem is part of an ignominious national pattern: Black people and Latinos are far more likely to live in the hottest parts of American cities.

The mayor’s administration has faced criticism over its ability to roll out other key initiatives, including meal deliveries, virus testing and a contact-tracing program.

But in some ways, the air-conditioner program could be viewed as a success: The city mobilized relatively quickly to help improve the lives of some of its neediest residents. The mayor’s office defended the program and said another 11,600 units would be installed in the coming weeks.

Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Sarah Almukhtar, Hannah Beech, Alan Blinder, Alexander Burns, Emily Cochrane, Patricia Cohen, Choe Sang-Hun, Abdi Latif Dahir, Joe Drape, Nicholas Fandos, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Hailey Fuchs, Katie Glueck, Tiffany Hsu, Mike Ives, Tyler Kepner, Gwen Knapp, Alex Lemonides, Apoorva Mandavilli, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Matt Phillips, Valeriya Safronova, Anna Schaverien, Somini Sengupta, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Marina Varenikova, James Wagner and Elaine Yu.

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