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Coronavirus Live Updates: Birx Warns That U.S. Epidemic Is in a ‘New Phase’

This briefing has ended. Read live coronavirus updates here.

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageDr. Deborah L. Birx. “What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” she said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It is extraordinarily widespread.”
Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus coordinator, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that the country is in a “new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, and that it is much more extensive than the spring outbreaks in major cities like New York and Seattle.

She recommended that people living in communities where cases are surging consider wearing a mask at home if they live with someone who is especially vulnerable because of age or underlying medical conditions.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread,” Dr. Birx said, adding that rural areas have not been spared. “So everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune.”

She emphasized the significance of asymptomatic transmission. “If you have an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive if you have individuals in your household with co-morbidities,” she said.

Both she and Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, emphasized the importance of mask wearing, hand washing and avoiding crowds. On the NBC program “Meet the Press,” Admiral Giroir said some of the efforts seemed to be helping in recent weeks to reduce the number of cases in Arizona and some other states that have been hard hit this summer.

He repeatedly returned to mask wearing as perhaps the most effective preventive measure in communities experiencing an outbreak. “Wearing a mask is incredibly important, but we have to have like 85 or 90 percent of individuals wearing a mask and avoiding crowds,” he said. Those percentages, he said, give “you the same outcome as a complete shutdown.”

Asked if he was recommending a national mask mandate, Admiral Giroir said, “The public health message is we’ve got to have mask wearing.” He added: “If we don’t do that, and if we don’t limit the indoor crowded spaces, the virus will continue to run.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said on CNN that in many areas where cases are surging, the availability of tests was badly lagging. “In 18, 20 states, the number of tests being done is actually falling and falling because our testing system is under such strain that we just can’t even deliver the test today that we were doing two weeks ago. That’s very concerning because when cases are rising, and your number of tests are falling, that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Admiral Giroir defended the nation’s testing program, noting it has been increased exponentially in recent months. He said that both testing and contact tracing were crucial responses, but not particularly helpful in large, communitywide outbreaks.

He was also asked about the president’s endorsement of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus. He discounted its utility, citing results from several recent clinical trials that showed no benefit.

“At this point in time we don’t recommend that as a treatment,” he said. “There’s no evidence to show that it is.”

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

In April, with hospitals overwhelmed and much of the United States in lockdown, the Department of Health and Human Services produced a presentation for the White House arguing that rapid development of a coronavirus vaccine was the best hope to control the pandemic.

“DEADLINE: Enable broad access to the public by October 2020,” the first slide read, with the date in bold.

Given that it typically takes years to develop a vaccine, the timetable for the initiative, called Operation Warp Speed, was incredibly ambitious. With tens of thousands dying and tens of millions out of work, the crisis demanded an all-out public-private response, with the government supplying billions of dollars to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, providing logistical support and cutting through red tape.

It escaped no one that the proposed deadline also intersected nicely with President Trump’s need to curb the virus before the election in November.

The ensuing race for a vaccine — in the middle of a campaign in which the president’s handling of the pandemic is the key issue after he has spent his time in office undermining science and the expertise of the federal bureaucracy — is now testing the system set up to ensure safe and effective drugs to a degree never before seen.

Under constant pressure from a White House anxious for good news and a public desperate for a silver bullet to end the crisis, the government’s researchers are fearful of political intervention in the coming months and are struggling to ensure that the government maintains the right balance between speed and rigorous regulation, according to interviews with administration officials, federal scientists and outside experts.

Credit…Gerry Broome/Associated Press

As many U.S. colleges plan to welcome back students this month, they face challenges unlike any other industry — containing the coronavirus among a young, carefree population that not only studies together, but also lives together, parties together and, if decades of history are any guide, sleeps together.

It will be a complex endeavor requiring far more than just the reconfiguring of dorm rooms and cafeterias. It also involves coronavirus testing programs capable of serving communities the size of small cities and the enforcement of codes of conduct among students not eager to be policed.

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Updated 2020-08-03T10:16:33.330Z

Colleges are mapping strategies as varied as the contrasting Covid regulations enacted by the states, and the efforts could add more than $70 billion to the budgets of the nation’s 5,000 colleges.

Yet administrators say giving students at least a taste of college life is worth it, if done in a safe way. Whether those constituents agree is an open question, and complaints about tuition have led a growing number of schools to offer rebates.

In one of the more elaborate plans, the University of California, Berkeley, will test all residential students within 24 hours of their arrival. After that, everyone living on campus will be tested twice a month if its test proves accurate enough.

But Cornell College in Iowa, with only 1,000 students, is counting on its humble health center and county health department to do its testing. Small schools in similar situations are finding themselves at the mercy of private labs that can take two weeks to deliver results, making results almost meaningless.

It is still possible that the frantic planning will come to naught.

Credit…Mark R Cristino/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Sunday ordered Manila and nearby suburban areas to re-enter lockdown for two weeks as the health department reported 5,032 new cases.

Group gatherings were prohibited, and the population was advised to stay home. Public transportation was halted, domestic flights and inter-island ferries remained suspended, and the government encouraged biking. Schools will remain shut.

Infections spiked after the government eased lockdown rules and gradually opened up in an effort to jump start the economy. But instead of managing the numbers, it has resulted in grim results, with hospitals overwhelmed and doctors warning they were reaching a breaking point. In an appeal to the government on Saturday, the Philippine College of Physicians, the country’s main organization of doctors, warned that the health system “has been overwhelmed.”

This came shortly after Manila’s city government ordered the temporary closure of its two hospitals, citing the growing number of health care staff members who have been infected. It said that the city’s health care workers are burned out “with the seemingly endless number of patients trooping to our hospitals for emergency care and admission.”

Total cases in the country now stand at 103,185, with 2,059 deaths.

Mr. Duterte told officials to “strictly enforce the quarantine, especially the lockdown.”

“I have heard the call of different groups from the medical community for a two-week enhanced community quarantine in mega Manila,” he said. “I fully understand why your health workers would like to ask for such a timeout period. They have been in the front lines for months and are exhausted.”

global roundup

Video

transcript

Melbourne Tightens Lockdown as Virus Outbreak Spreads

Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria, Australia, said that starting on Sunday, residents in the metropolitan Melbourne area will be under curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

I am declaring a state of disaster across Victoria. This will be in addition to the state of emergency that has operated throughout. This means that police and others have additional powers. We can suspend various acts of the Parliament. We can make sure that we get the job done. You will no longer be able to leave home or go any farther away from your home than a five kilometer radius. Recreational activity is now no longer allowed. You will be allowed to have one hour of exercise no farther than five kilometers from your home. There will be a curfew across metropolitan Melbourne from 8 p.m. this evening, and it will run from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each and every day. And the only reason to be out of your home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. is to get care, to give care or to go to and from work, or be at work. We can no longer have people visiting others. We can no longer have people simply out and about for no good reason whatsoever.

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Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria, Australia, said that starting on Sunday, residents in the metropolitan Melbourne area will be under curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.CreditCredit…William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Officials in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, announced stricter measures on Sunday in an effort to stem a coronavirus outbreak that is raging despite a lockdown that began four weeks ago.

For six weeks starting on Sunday, residents of metropolitan Melbourne will be under curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. except for purposes of work or giving and receiving care.

As under the current lockdown, permitted reasons for leaving the house include: shopping for essential goods and services; medical care and caregiving; and necessary exercise, work and study. Food shopping is limited to one person per household per day, and outdoor exercise is limited to one hour per person per day, both within about three miles of home. Public gatherings are limited to two people, including household members.

In explaining the new measures, Premier Daniel Andrews said the high rate of community transmission, including 671 new cases reported in the state of Victoria on Sunday, suggested that the virus was more widespread than had been known.

“You’ve got to err on the side of caution and go further and go harder,” he said.

Victoria has had 11,557 confirmed cases, almost all of them in metropolitan Melbourne, and 123 deaths.

Here is what else is happening around the world:

  • Kosovo’s prime minister Avdullah Hoti said on Sunday he has contracted Covid-19 and will self-isolate at home for two weeks, Reuters reports. “I have no signs, except a very easy cough,” he wrote on Facebook. He said he will be “in isolation” for two weeks and “fulfill my obligations from home.”

  • Many Ethiopians who found work in other parts of Africa or in the Persian Gulf before the pandemic are heading home unemployed and possibly infected with the virus, representing a major strain on Ethiopia’s fragile health system. More than 30,000 laborers have re-entered Ethiopia since mid-March. Of those, at least 927 had the virus, according to the government, though that figure has not been updated in over a month and is almost certainly an undercount.

  • India’s biggest film star, Amitabh Bachchan, was discharged from the hospital on Sunday after recovering from Covid-19, and the country’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah, announced that he tested positive. Mr. Bachchan, 77, was hospitalized for three weeks. His son, Abhishek Bachchan, also a movie star, remains in the hospital. Mr. Shah announced on Twitter on Sunday he tested positive. The announcement came one day after his government allowed the reopening of hotels and weekly markets in New Delhi, one of the worst-hit regions in the country.

Credit…William Widmer for The New York Times

With coronavirus cases soaring across the United States, the debate in Washington over a new relief package to help people and businesses weather the crisis is set to take center stage in the coming week, and negotiators were meeting over the weekend in hopes of making progress on a deal.

“The president’s determined to spend what we need to spend,” said Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, speaking on the ABC program “This Week.” “We’re acting very quickly now.”

Unemployment benefits lapsed this week for tens of millions of people, but officials have struggled to agree over new aid. Mr. Mnuchin’s remarks came after he and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, met with top congressional Democrats in a rare Saturday meeting on Capitol Hill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who hosted the meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, said that staff members would meet on Sunday and that the main negotiators would convene again on Monday. They called the discussion on Saturday productive but said that the sides remained far apart on several matters.

“We must defeat this virus, and that’s one of the points that we still have not come to any agreement on,” Ms. Pelosi said, speaking on “This Week.” (Mr. Mnuchin, appearing afterward, refuted the suggestion that the administration is not invested in defeating the virus.)

At issue is the gap between the latest relief packages put forward by Democrats and Republicans.

A $1 trillion proposal issued by Senate Republicans and administration officials last week includes cutting by two-thirds the $600-per-week unemployment payments that workers had received since April and providing tax cuts and liability protections for businesses.

A $3 trillion relief package approved by House Democrats in May includes an extension of the jobless aid, nearly $200 billion for rental assistance and mortgage relief, $3.6 billion to bolster election security and additional aid for food assistance.

U.S. Roundup

Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Virus-battered Florida is confronting a new challenge: Tropical Storm Isaias, which is whipping the coast with high winds and creating the risk of flash flooding as it makes its way up the East Coast.

At 2 p.m. Eastern time, the center of the storm was about 30 miles offshore, east of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and was moving north-northwest at about eight miles an hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Isaias — which is written Isaías in Spanish and pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — had clobbered the Bahamas with hurricane conditions on Saturday after hitting parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. As it advances northward, the center of the storm is skirting close to the coast of Florida without making landfall so far, but its track is likely to bring it ashore in the Carolinas early in the week.

Complicating the emergency response to the storm, reported coronavirus cases continue to rise sharply in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, and health officials have warned that their health care systems could be strained beyond capacity. To avoid virus exposure in shelters, the first choice is for coastal residents in homes vulnerable to flooding to stay with relatives or friends farther inland, being careful to wear masks and remain socially distant.

“Because of Covid, we feel that you are safer at home,” said Bill Johnson, the emergency management director for Palm Beach County. “Shelters should be considered your last resort.”

Here is what else is happening around the country:

  • Lord & Taylor, the floundering department store company, on Sunday became the latest retailer to file for bankruptcy protection as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates the demise of teetering chains. Lord & Taylor and parent company Le Tote said in a filing on Sunday that they operated 38 locations, which had been temporarily closed since March 2020, and that they had about 651 employees.

  • The two owners of the Liberty Belle, a party boat, were arrested on Saturday night after it was used that day to host an event with more than 170 guests, violating state and local social-distancing rules, according to the New York Sheriff’s office. State officials in recent weeks have increasingly cracked down on bars and other businesses that violate social-distancing and other safety measures. Dozens of businesses have had their liquor licenses suspended.

  • Five months after the coronavirus engulfed New York City, subway ridership is 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels, even as the city has largely contained the virus and reopened some businesses. But public transportation may not be as risky as New Yorkers believed. There has been no notable superspreader event linked to mass transit, according to a survey of transportation agencies conducted by The New York Times.

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

A top economic official and the governor of Arkansas used appearances on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the financial toll of the virus as it rages through much of the country.

Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, argued that it would be better for the economy if the United States instituted strict lockdown policies for a month to six weeks to stop the spread of the virus.

If the country cannot control the spread, “we’re going to have flare-ups, lockdowns and a very halting recovery with many more job losses and many more bankruptcies,” Mr. Kashkari said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“If we were to lock down hard for a month or six weeks, we could get the case count down, so that our testing and our contact tracing was actually enough to control it,” he said. “If we don’t do that, and we have this raging virus spreading throughout the country with flare-ups and local lockdowns for the next year or two, which is entirely possible, we’re going to see many, many more business bankruptcies.”

He also said that given the low cost of issuing debt, the government has room to spend to support the American economy.

“Congress should use this opportunity to support the American people, and the American economy,” he said. “If we get the economy growing, we will be able to pay off the debt.”

His argument for a longer shutdown stands in contrast to others’ views. On the CNN program “State of the Union,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas defended his decision not to impose a statewide stay-at-home order earlier this year. Mr. Hutchinson emphasized the economic ramifications of extended shutdowns.

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“We’ve got to take on two emergencies here,” he said. “One is our virus, the other is the economy.”

Credit…Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Amid a slow but steady stream of new coronavirus cases, the Major League Baseball season becoming more precarious seemingly by the day.

Then on Saturday the league’s commissioner issued a rallying cry. “We are playing,” Rob Manfred told ESPN. “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

Players on many teams have been spotted high-fiving or spitting or getting too close too often in the dugout — all in violation of the manual.

And already, 20 cases among the Miami Marlins and six among the St. Louis Cardinals less than two weeks into the season have wreaked havoc on the schedules of eight teams. It also raised questions about M.L.B.’s protocols.

In saying the games would go on, Manfred thrust the onus on the players.

Kathleen Bachynski, an assistant professor of public health at Muhlenberg College, took issue with Manfred’s comments, writing on Twitter that the virus thrives “when people insist on sticking with a poor plan to the bitter end.”

In a phone interview, Dr. Bachynski said “the responsibility has to be on the league to provide safe conditions to play in.”

Four players announced they would not play this season since the Marlin’s outbreak; a dozen players opted out of the season before opening day.

On Sunday, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the rest of the 2020 Major League Baseball season for “Covid-related” reasons, Brodie Van Wagenen, the team’s general manager, announced Sunday afternoon. The announcement came after Cespedes had failed to show up on Sunday for the Mets’ game in Atlanta against the Braves.

Credit…Sechenov Medical University Press Office, via Getty Images

The minister of health, Mikhail Murashko, said Saturday that the plan was to begin by vaccinating teachers and health care workers. He also told the RIA state news agency that amid accelerated testing, the laboratory that developed the vaccine was already seeking regulatory approval for it.

Russia is one of a number of countries rushing to develop and administer a vaccine, and it is determined to get there first.

Not only would a vaccine help alleviate a worldwide health crisis that has killed more than 680,000 people and badly wounded the global economy, it would also become a symbol of national pride and a valuable propaganda tool for the country that produces it. It could be a lucrative commodity, as well.

“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, warned a congressional hearing on Friday.

A Russian regulatory agency is expected to approve that vaccine for the October campaign by mid-August, far earlier than timelines suggested by Western regulators, who have often said a vaccine would become available no sooner than the end of the year.

But with limited transparency in the Russian program, separating the science from the politics and propaganda could prove impossible. Critics have already drawn attention to Russia’s tradition of cutting corners in research on other pharmaceutical products and accusations of intellectual property theft.

Credit…Yirmiyan Arthur/Associated Press

As the coronavirus has resurged in many parts of the country in recent weeks, experts and politicians alike have implored people to protect themselves and others by wearing a face mask in public.

Does that apply when you have to be out in the gusting wind and driving rain of a tropical storm like Isaias? Our health columnist Tara Parker-Pope says, probably not: Face masks aren’t as effective when they are wet.

For one thing, it’s much harder to breathe through a wet mask than a dry one, Ms. Parker-Pope notes. And on top of that, a moist or wet mask doesn’t filter as well as a dry mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends mask-wearing in general, says they should not be worn when doing things that may get the mask wet.

It doesn’t take a tropical storm to drench a mask, of course. They can become soaked with condensation from your breath or sweat from your face, and some people think of wetting them deliberately to cool off in hot weather. But the harm done is the same, wherever the moisture comes from.

A paper surgical mask that gets soaked should probably be discarded, Ms. Parker-Pope advises, but a cloth mask can be washed, dried and reused.

If rain is coming down in buckets, social distancing is not likely to be a problem, and any viral particles exhaled by an infected person probably would be quickly diluted by gusting wind and rain. So there is little need to wear a mask out in a rainstorm, Ms. Parker-Pope notes: “In fact, you should take it off and keep it dry, so if you need to duck into a store to wait out the storm, you have a dry mask to wear indoors.”

Credit…Kim Raff for The New York Times

Could humans pass the coronavirus to wildlife, specifically North American bats?

It may seem like a minor worry — far down the list from concerns like getting sick, losing a loved one or staying employed. But as the pandemic has made clear, the more careful people are about viruses passing among species, the better.

The scientific consensus is that the coronavirus originated in bats in China or neighboring countries. A recent paper tracing the genetic lineage of the virus found evidence that it probably evolved in bats into its current form. The researchers also concluded that either this coronavirus or others that could make the jump to humans may be present in bat populations.

So why worry about infecting more bats with the current virus?

The U.S. government considers it a legitimate concern both for bat populations, which have been devastated by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, and for humans, given potential problems down the road. If the virus can pass easily between species, it could potentially spill back over to humans.

Another concern is how readily the coronavirus may spread from bats to other kinds of wildlife or domestic animals, including pets. Much attention has been paid to the small number of pets that have been infected, but public health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that, although information is limited, the risk of pets spreading the virus to people is low.

They do recommend that any person who has Covid-19 take the same precautions with their pets that they would with human family members.

Credit…Meghan Dhaliwal for The New York Times

Mexico’s love affair with melodrama appeared to be over. Now, thanks partly to the pandemic, the telenovela is roaring back.

Confined to their homes, millions of Mexicans have devoted their evenings to the traditional melodramas and other kitschy classics, finding in the familiar faces and happy endings a balm for anxieties raised by a health crisis that has left at least 43,000 dead and millions unemployed in the country.

The resurgence has been a boon to Televisa, a onetime media monopoly that had taken a beating from streaming services. During the second quarter, 6.6 million people watched Televisa’s flagship channel during prime time each evening, when telenovelas and other melodramas air. Viewership was around five million in that period last year, according to the network.

Miguel Ángel Herros, the executive producer of the melodrama “La Rosa de Guadalupe,” has been filming for shorter periods, in locations that leave ample space for his crew. Actors have their temperatures taken when they arrive on set, and rehearse with masks and face shields.

It is unclear whether the success will last through a pandemic that has forced physical displays of affection out of telenovelas.

“There are no kisses, no hugs, no caresses, no scenes in bed,” Mr. Herros said.

Travel looks very different in 2020. Here are some questions to help you decide whether you would feel comfortable taking a trip during the pandemic.

Reporting was contributed by Kevin Armstrong, Peter Baker, Benedict Carey, Emily Cochrane, Melina Delkic, Tess Felder, Christina Goldbaum, James Gorman, Jason Gutierrez, Andrew Higgins, Jennifer Jett, Annie Karni, Natalie Kitroeff, Sharon LaFraniere, Patrick J. Lyons, Simon Marks, Patricia Mazzei, Tara Parker-Pope, Kate Phillips, Jeanna Smialek, Katie Thomas, Noah Weiland and Sameer Yasir.



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