Covid-19 News: Live Updates – The New York Times

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Two P.R. experts at the F.D.A. have been removed after the fiasco over convalescent plasma.

Two senior public relations experts advising the Food and Drug Administration have been fired from their positions after President Trump and the head of the F.D.A. exaggerated the proven benefits of a blood plasma treatment for Covid-19.

On Friday, the F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, removed Emily Miller as the agency’s chief spokeswoman. The White House had installed her in the post just 11 days earlier. Ms. Miller had previously worked in communications for the re-election campaign of Senator Ted Cruz and as a journalist for the conservative cable network One America News. Ms. Miller could not be reached for comment.

The New York Times correspondents Sheila Kaplan and Katie Thomas report that Ms. Miller’s termination comes one day after the F.D.A.’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, terminated the contract of another public relations consultant, Wayne L. Pines, who had advised Dr. Hahn to apologize for misleading comments about the benefits of blood plasma for Covid-19.

“I did recommend that he correct the record,” Mr. Pines said, adding that he wasn’t told why his contract was severed. “If a federal official doesn’t say something right, and chooses to clarify and say that the criticism is justified, that’s refreshing,” Mr. Pines said.

The Department of Health and Human Services denied that Mr. Pines’s contract was terminated because of his involvement in the plasma messaging.

It was “100 percent coincidence,” said Brian Harrison, the department’s chief of staff. “H.H.S. has been reviewing and canceling similar contracts, so I had it sent to our lawyers, who recommended termination. This was routine.”

The F.D.A. had been considering allowing the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment for Covid-19 on an emergency basis, but earlier this month, The Times reported that the decision had been delayed after a group of federal health officials, including Dr. Francis S. Collins and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, intervened and expressed concern that the available evidence on the effectiveness of the treatment was too weak, prompting Mr. Trump to call the F.D.A. a deep state. Mr. Trump and Dr. Hahn made the inflated claim for the treatment’s value on Sunday, on the eve of the Republican National Convention.

The announcement should have been a rare win for the F.D.A., which for months had been fending off criticism over its track record on the pandemic, as well as the independence of Dr. Hahn, who was previously pressured by Mr. Trump to authorize malaria drugs that turned out to be harmful.

Instead, it spurred a week of recriminations, anger and mistrust between the F.D.A. and the H.H.S., drawing sharp criticism from scientists and at least three former agency commissioners, who said the exaggerated statements undermined public trust in the F.D.A.

“This is a low moment for the F.D.A. in at least a generation,” said Daniel Carpenter, a professor at Harvard University who studies the agency. “This was a major self-inflicted wound.”

Two organizations that represent thousands of local public health departments in the United States sent a letter to senior Trump administration officials on Friday asking that they “pull the revised guidance” on virus testing and restore recommendations that individuals who have been exposed to the virus be tested whether or not they have symptoms.

The letter — addressed to Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, an assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services — was sent by the leaders of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the Big Cities Health Coalition. The organizations’ leaders wrote that their members were “incredibly concerned” about the changes.

The C.D.C. quietly modified its coronavirus testing guidelines this week to exclude people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 — even if they have been recently exposed to the virus.

Experts questioned the revision, pointing to the importance of identifying infections in the small window immediately before the onset of symptoms, when many individuals appear to be most contagious.

After a storm of criticism, Dr. Redfield tried to clarify the agency’s recommendation and said “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients.”

The letter sent on Friday said, “As public health professionals, we are troubled about the lack of evidence cited to inform this change. CDC’s own data suggest that perhaps as many as 40 percent of Covid-19 cases are attributable to asymptomatic transmission. Changing testing guidelines to suggest that close contacts to confirmed positives without symptoms do not need to be tested is inconsistent with the science and the data.”

The letter went on to say that while the new guidance allows local or state health officials to make exceptions, it “will make their ability to respond to the pandemic even harder,” allowing skeptical officials or members of the public to blame and question them. “This revision and its resulting impact is adding yet another obstacle for public health practitioners to effectively address the pandemic.”

A public health laboratory in Nevada has reported the first confirmed coronavirus reinfection in the United States, and the first in the world known to have brought on severe symptoms.

The first three confirmed reinfections in the world were reported this week, one in Hong Kong and two in Europe, all mild.

Reinfection does not surprise researchers, given the millions of cases around the world, but it is not yet clear if such cases — particularly severe ones — are anomalies or will prove common.

The patient is a 25-year-old man in Reno who apparently experienced a second bout of infection just 48 days after his first, according to health officials in Nevada.

Experts have said that even low levels of antibodies and T cells in response to infection should last for a few months and provide some protection against the virus, which appears to have been borne out in the other confirmed reinfections.

The patient in Nevada had a sore throat, cough, nausea and diarrhea starting on March 25. He tested positive on April 18, recovered by April 27, and tested negative twice. He began to feel unwell again on May 28, and three days later sought help for a similar set of symptoms.

He was hospitalized on June 5 for shortness of breath and needed oxygen; an X-ray showed the “ground-glass opacities” typical of Covid-19.

Researchers genetically sequenced the viruses from each bout, and found they were too different to be accounted for by an extended first illness. The findings are expected to be published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Mark Pandori, the director of Nevada’s state lab, said it wasn’t clear why the second bout was more severe. “There may be a biological reason for that, but we can’t sure at this time,” he said.

The researchers did not test the man for antibodies after the first illness, but found that he had them after the second.

Some experts said the severe symptoms could mean that the patient had not developed antibodies after the first infection, or that his immune response was overpowered by a massive dose of virus the second time. It is also possible that he suffered antibody-dependent enhancement, in which the immune response may worsen symptoms on a second encounter.

The findings highlight the need for widespread testing and viral sequencing, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York who was not involved in the work. “You really are going to need to look at a lot of these cases to try to start to narrow down which hypothesis is probably right,” she said.

Education roundup

States and college towns in the U.S. are now cracking down on student partying.

Across the United States, state and local governments are bearing down on student partying as thousands of cases have erupted with the return of students to college campuses.

With cases spiking in Iowa, particularly among young adults, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday that the state would shut down bars, breweries and nightclubs in six counties, including the two with the state’s largest concentrations of college students. In Story County where Iowa State University is located, more than 1,000 of the 2,129 total cases have been reported since the start of August. Similarly, Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, is now averaging more than 100 new cases per day, up from about 25 new cases per day in early August.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York outlined criteria that would require campuses go remote for two weeks. Earlier in the week, campus and city officials in Tuscaloosa, Ala., announced that bars would be shut down for two weeks amid reports that more than 500 University of Alabama students had tested positive since the start of the semester.

And health officials in Butler County, Ohio, announced that they had quarantined all the student athletes who had returned to Miami University, many of whom had attended an off-campus party. The Newark, Del., city council passed an emergency ordinance capping attendance at house parties in an effort to control partying at the University of Delaware.

The government actions follow on the heels of crackdowns on unsafe student behavior by university presidents in recent weeks, as cases have shot up on many campuses with the start of the fall semester. Though most campuses have imposed strict health rules and have dramatically restricted the number of students able to live, gather or attend classes on campus, crowded get-togethers, bar-hopping and rogue fraternity parties have prompted intense concern in surrounding communities.

At Syracuse University, 23 students were recently suspended after a gathering on campus that college officials decried as “selfish.” Crowds at the University of North Georgia, Pennsylvania State University, Iowa State University and other campuses have been caught on video gathering by the hundreds without masks or social distance. The president of the University of Iowa scolded Iowa City businesses in an open letter after photos of unmasked students packed into bars circulated on as the semester started.

Here’s what’s happening in schools and universities across the U.S.:

  • The University of Notre Dame, which pivoted to virtual instruction earlier this month after a spike in infections, announced Friday it will resume face-to-face classes next week amid signs that the surge is receding. Over the past week, the county where the campus is located, St. Joseph, reported about 882 more cases, according to a New York Times database.

  • The fight in the United States over whether to send students back to classrooms in person, is increasingly moving into the country’s courtrooms. The legal actions reflect the competing views over brick-and-mortar versus remote instruction. Some are suing to stay out of the classroom, and others to get in.

  • With less than two weeks before the start of school in New Jersey, growing numbers of districts are pulling the plug on in-person instruction, citing teacher shortages, ventilation issues, and late-in-the-game guidance from the state on how to manage virus cases. The state — which had been one of the country’s worst virus hot spots, but now has a relatively low transmission rate — has left the decision to individual districts.

global roundup

India’s outbreak is now the fastest-growing in the world, with nearly half a million cases reported this week.

India is now the world’s fastest-growing virus crisis, having reported nearly half a million cases in the past week, including at least 75,000 a day on both Thursday and Friday, according to a New York Times database.

Packed cities that make social distancing nearly impossible, lockdown fatigue and virtually no contact tracing have allowed the virus to spread to every corner of the country of 1.3 billion people. The country has a total of 3.3 million cases and at least 61,000 deaths.

Health experts say the virus reproduction rate is ticking up as more state governments, desperate to stimulate an ailing economy, are loosening lockdown restrictions.

“Everything right now is indicating toward a massive surge in the caseload in coming days,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a health researcher at Melaka Manipal Medical College in southern India. “What is more worrying is we are inching toward the Number One spot globally.”

Children who are infected with the virus but show no symptoms may shed the virus for nearly as long as children who are visibly sick, researchers reported on Friday.

The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggest that the vast majority of infected children appear healthy but still may spread the virus to others. The study is hardly the final word: Research into asymptomatic children has been unfolding rapidly, some studies have been reconsidered, and it still is not clear to scientists how often they may transmit the virus and under what circumstances.

The new study is short on details, and does not indicate whether the virus the children shed is alive and capable of infecting others, or whether older children are more contagious than younger ones.

The researchers in South Korea followed 91 children under age 19 — with a median age of 11 — at 20 hospitals and two isolation facilities between Feb. 18 and March 31. They tested the children’s nose, throat and sputum every three days on average. (Anyone in South Korea who tests positive is sent to a hospital or isolation center.)

Twenty children, or 22 percent, remained symptom-free throughout. In the other children, the symptoms spanned a wide range, from lack of smell or taste to diarrhea, cough, runny nose and fever — “not specific enough for Covid-19 to prompt diagnostic testing or anticipate disease severity,” the researchers wrote. Only two children were sick enough to need oxygen.

Of the children with obvious signs of illness, only six had shown symptoms at the time of diagnosis; 18 developed symptoms later. The remaining 47 had unrecognized symptoms before being diagnosed — which is noteworthy given the tight surveillance in South Korea, the researchers said.

Asymptomatic children continued to test positive for 14 days after diagnosis on average, compared with 19 days in children with symptoms. But the researchers did not try to grow the virus to confirm that the tests were not just picking up remnants of dead virus.

Overall, the findings suggest that screening for symptoms is likely to miss the vast majority of infected children who can silently spread it to others. In their study, 93 percent of the children could have been missed were it not for “intensive contact tracing and aggressive diagnostic testing,” the researchers reported.

Six months into the pandemic, The New York Times has collected data on more than 500,000 cases linked to thousands of distinct clusters around the United States. Many of those cases turned up in settings that became familiar headlines: cruise ships, prisons, nursing homes, meatpacking plants.

But thousands of other cases emerged in other corners of American life, often with little fanfare. Thirty-five cases at the Belleville Boot Company in Arkansas. Twelve at First Baptist Church in Wheeling, W.Va. Ninety-nine at Saputo Cheese in South Gate, Calif.

The clusters illustrate how the virus has crept into much of life, with a randomness that seems the only rule.

Elsewhere in the U.S.:

  • Even after a warning from the U.S. Postal Service that it may not be able to meet deadlines for delivering last-minute mail-in ballots, more than 20 states still have not changed their policies, potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters whose ballots could arrive too late to be counted in the November election amid the pandemic, an expert told Congress on Friday.

    “The necessary policy changes to align dates and deadlines with USPS delivery standards hasn’t happened in many states and more than 20 states allow for a voter to request a ballot be mailed to them within seven days of an election — after the time that USPS recommends the ballot be mailed back,” Tammy Patrick, the Democracy Fund’s senior adviser for elections said in written testimony submitted to the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany believes the pandemic will get worse with the end of summer and the arrival of colder weather.

“We have all enjoyed the freedoms and relative protection from aerosols in the summer, which is possible through life outdoors,” Ms. Merkel said on Friday during her traditional summer news conference with reporters.

“Yes, we must expect that some things will be even more difficult in the coming months than they are now in the summer.”

Ms. Merkel said that her continued focus was schools, the economy and societal cohesion, calling the virus “an imposition on democracy.”

On Thursday, Ms. Merkel and state governors had agreed on a number of new virus measures, including a minimum fine for not wearing masks and rules designed to lower infections brought back to Germany by returning travelers.

While a vast majority agree with the government’s virus measures, a vocal minority believes that the government has gone too far. In Berlin, city officials had canceled several demonstrations against virus restrictions planned for the weekend. But on Friday, a Berlin court overturned the city’s decision and ruled that the demonstrations could take place if special social-distancing rules were followed.

On Thursday, German health authorities registered 1,571 new infections in the past 24 hours, with many of the infected thought to have become ill while on vacation abroad. A week ago the country registered more than 2,000 cases in a single day, a number not seen since the end of April. Germany has had at least 239,500 cases of the virus and 9,288 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

“It won’t be the same as before until we have a vaccine and a drug,” Ms. Merkel said.

In a survey about how 14 countries have handled the virus, Americans and Britons rate themselves lowest.

In a survey of 14 countries with advanced economies, the United States and Britain fared the worst on a question about how people view their country’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Only 47 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center said their country had done a good job of handling the spread of the virus, according to results published on Thursday, while 46 percent of Britons viewed their government’s response favorably.

None of the other countries got an approval percentage below 50, and among all 14 surveyed, a median of 73 percent of respondents said they approved of how their country had handled their outbreak. The highest rates of approval were in Denmark (95 percent) and Australia (94 percent).

The United States has by far the highest number of infections and related deaths in the world, while Britain ranks fifth in total deaths, according to a New York Times database.

The researchers also asked whether people believed their country was more divided than before the virus hit, and 77 percent of the Americans surveyed said yes, while no other country registered above 60 percent on that question. Only a quarter of Danes said the same about their country. That was the lowest percentage, followed by 27 percent of Japanese respondents and 29 percent of Canadians.

In Europe, people with positive views of right-wing populist parties were more likely to say that division had increased, especially in Germany.

In the United States, three-quarters of Republicans and independent voters who lean toward the Republican Party told Pew researchers that the government had done a good job dealing with the virus, while only a quarter of Democrats, or those leaning toward the Democratic Party, said the same.

The researchers said perceptions of economic circumstances played a role in how people rated their country during the pandemic.

“Across all 14 nations included in the survey, those who think their current national economic situation is good are also more likely than those who believe the economy is bad to say their country has done a good job of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak,” the researchers wrote.

The Pew researchers spoke to 14,276 adults by phone from June 10 to Aug. 3.

Reporting was contributed by Luke Broadwater, Alexander Burns, Sheri Fink, Jeffrey Gettleman, Maggie Haberman, Shawn Hubler, Mike Ives, Sheila Kaplan, Corey Kilgannon, Sharon LaFraniere, Claire Moses, Apoorva Mandavilli, Motoko Rich, Anna Schaverien, Christopher F. Schuetze, Mitch Smith, Katie Thomas, Marina Varenikova, Lauren Wolfe and Sameer Yasir.


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