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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Officials Urge Caution Ahead of Labor Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend gatherings caused case spikes. The U.S. caseload is nearly double ahead of Labor Day.

Going into Labor Day weekend, the United States is averaging about 40,000 new cases per day, up from the level ahead of Memorial Day weekend of about 22,000 per day.

The two holidays book-end a summer of lost opportunity. Though the country reined in the devastating surge of new infections that led to a peak of more than 66,000 new cases per day, America failed to stamp out the virus before the fall, which is expected to bring a dangerous combination with the start of school, flu season and cooler weather that will drive people indoors.

Fewer Americans are currently sick, hospitalized and dying from the coronavirus compared to earlier peaks this summer, promising signs that the worst surge of recent infections has waned.

But the United States is still averaging far more new cases each day than it was at the start of the summer, a stark reminder of the country’s failure to control the spread of the virus during a crucial time frame.

“We are at a very high baseline to begin with,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter.

The earlier summer spike was blamed, in part, on gatherings stemming from Memorial Day weekend, raising concerns that parties and travel during a new holiday weekend — this time with more cases nationwide — could lead to a troubling surge.

“Our state’s health and well-being rest on what Georgians choose to do over this Labor Day weekend,” Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said on Friday during a statewide tour meant to urge caution ahead of the holiday weekend.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado offered a similar warning: “The virus is still out there.”

The Labor Day weekend is different in at least one respect, however: A number of states have rolled back reopenings or imposed mask mandates amid mounting infections this summer. For example, a mask order and an order closing bars remain in effect in Texas, which had neither at the start of the summer.

In Huron, S.D., the annual state fair kicked off on Thursday. The fair, which is scheduled to run through Labor Day, comes weeks after South Dakota hosted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of bikers from across the country and has been linked to hundreds of new cases in multiple states and one death.

“We’ve cautioned the sick and vulnerable to consider staying home and taking extra precautions,” a spokesman for the governor said on Friday. “We’re encouraged by the fact that our hospitalizations remain low and that only 6% of our ICU beds are currently occupied by Covid patients.”

The fair posted a disclaimer on its website, warning that the coronavirus is a risk in any public place, adding that “By visiting the South Dakota State Fairgrounds, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19.”

On Friday, a team of Russian scientists published the first report on their controversial Covid-19 vaccine. Writing in the Lancet, they reported that volunteers produced a relatively modest amount of antibodies to the coronavirus.

In August, President Vladimir V. Putin announced with great fanfare that the vaccine — called Sputnik V — “works effectively enough” to be approved. He declared to be a “very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”

But vaccine developers roundly criticized the announcement, observing that no data had been published on the vaccine. In addition, the Russian scientists had yet to run a large-scale trial to demonstrate that the vaccine was safe and effective.

It is not uncommon for reports on early clinical vaccine trials to pass through peer review and get published in scientific journals after advanced trials get underway. But Putin’s headline-making announcement last month raised questions about exactly what evidence had led to the vaccine’s approval.

The new paper offers the first chance to take a closer look at Sputnik V.

The Russian team published the results of what’s known as a Phase 1/2 trial (where Phase 1 and 2 are combined). This is an early stage of clinical research, in which scientist give a vaccine to volunteers, observe whether they make antibodies to a virus, and check for any side effects.

The trial was relatively small. Only 40 volunteers received the full vaccine, and no one received a placebo for comparison.

Researchers at the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow designed the vaccine using two versions of a different virus — an adenovirus — as a vehicle to deliver coronavirus genes into cells. The adenoviruses were disabled so that they would only be able to enter cells, but not replicate.

The adenoviruses carried a coronavirus gene encoding a protein on the virus’s surface. The cells make the protein, which then stimulated people’s immune system.

Similar adenovirus-based vaccines are also being tested by several other teams, including AstraZeneca, CanSinoBio, and Johnson & Johnson. CanSinoBio is using a strain of adenovirus called Ad5. Johnson & Johnson is using one called Ad26. The Gamaleya researchers combined the two, giving volunteers a shot of Ad26, and then, three weeks later, a shot of Ad5.

The Russian vaccine produced mild symptoms in a number of subjects, the most common of which were fevers and headaches. Other adenovirus-based vaccines have produced similar side effects. The researchers found that volunteers who got the full vaccine produced antibodies to the coronavirus. They produced immune cells that could respond strongly to the coronavirus, too.

In their paper, the researchers noted that the vaccine did not produce as many antibodies as AstraZeneca’s vaccine, or the gene-based vaccine made by Moderna.

Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study, judged that the vaccine produced “good antibody levels in all volunteers.” But she added that no one yet knows what level of antibodies or immune cells are required to protect people from getting sick. “It is hard to tell whether the vaccine will be efficacious,” she said.

That is true of all Covid-19 vaccines currently in testing. Determine if a vaccine is efficacious requires a so-called Phase 3 trial, in which a large number of volunteers get either a vaccine or a placebo. In their paper, the Russian scientists wrote that they got approval on Aug. 26 to run a Phase 3 trial on 40,000 people.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser for the White House vaccine program, said on Thursday that it was “extremely unlikely but not impossible” that a vaccine could be available by the end of October.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Slaoui said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to states to prepare for a vaccine as early as late October was “the right thing to do” in case a vaccine was ready by then. “It would be irresponsible not to be ready if that was the case,” he said, adding that he had only learned of the notification through the news media.

But Dr. Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser of the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine and treatment initiative, called Operation Warp Speed, described getting a vaccine by late October as a “very, very low chance.”

That message ran counter to optimistic assertions from the White House that a vaccine could be ready for distribution before Election Day in November. Mr. Trump, during the Republican National Convention, said a vaccine could be ready “before the end of the year or maybe even sooner.”

KEY Data of the Day

Tennessee launches a new round of mass testing of state inmates in response to a recent outbreak.

A recent virus outbreak in a state prison in Wayne County, Tenn., accounted for an 80 percent rise in new cases reported over the past week in the rural community located in the Tennessee River Valley. Because of the prison, the area now has one of the highest infection rates in the nation for a rural county — about 899 cases per 10,000 people, according to a New York Times database.

Two inmates at the prison, the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., located in the county, have died, though the cause of death is still pending, according to CoreCivic, the company that runs the incarceration center for the state. Both of the deceased inmates had tested positive. Prison officials found that nearly 80 percent of the 1,438 inmates in the facility who were tested were found to have the virus but were asymptomatic, a company spokesman said.

The South Central virus outbreak prompted the state’s department of corrections to begin testing nearly 3,000 inmates at 13 centers across the state “out of an abundance of caution.”

The state department of corrections also said it will also start testing employees who work in the correctional facilities next week.

Other than the cases at South Central, there are 53 other state inmates known to currently have the virus, according to the state’s department of corrections.

Jails, prisons and other centers across the country have proven to be hot beds for the virus. And while there is no evidence that prison infections seed broader communitywide transmission, in small communities like Wayne County, it would not be unusual for someone who works at the prison to unknowingly bring it home to friends and family.

While state prisons in Tennessee remain closed to visitors to prevent the virus from spreading, federal prisons are expected to reopen to visitors with some precautions in October.

The U.S. added 1.4 million jobs in August as unemployment fell to 8.4 percent.

Employers continued to bring back furloughed workers last month, but at a far slower pace than in the spring, and millions of Americans remain out of work.

The number of people on temporary layoff fell to 6.2 million in August, from a peak of 18.1 million in April.

But as companies reopen, many are discovering that with demand still weak, they don’t need — or can’t afford — as many workers as before the pandemic, and some furloughed employees are finding that layoffs are permanent.

Other companies aren’t reopening at all. The number of people reporting that their job losses were permanent rose to 3.4 million in August, from 2.9 million in July. And economists say the shift from temporary to permanent job losses is worrying because it suggests that companies don’t foresee a quick rebound.

The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August as unemployment fell to 8.4 percent, the Labor Department said Friday, down from 1.7 million new jobs in July and down sharply from the 4.8 million added in June. Economists attribute much of the new job figures to the temporary hiring of 2020 census workers, most of whom will be laid off when census canvassing ends later this month.

Research connects vaping to a higher chance of catching the virus — and suffering its worst effects.

Since the start of the pandemic, experts have warned that the coronavirus — a respiratory pathogen — most likely capitalizes on the scarred lungs of smokers and vapers. Doctors and researchers are now starting to pinpoint the ways in which smoking and vaping seem to enhance the virus’s ability to spread from person to person, infiltrate the lungs and spark some of Covid-19’s worst symptoms.

“I have no doubt in saying that smoking and vaping could put people at increased risk of poor outcomes from Covid-19,” said Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University. “It is quite clear that smoking and vaping are bad for the lungs, and the predominant symptoms of Covid are respiratory. Those two things are going to be bad in combination.”

But while several studies have found that smoking can more than double a person’s risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms, the relationship between vaping and Covid-19 is only beginning to become clear. A team of researchers recently reported that young adults who vape are five times more likely to receive a coronavirus diagnosis.

“If I had caught Covid-19 within the week before I got really ill, I probably would have died,” said Janan Moein, 20, who was hospitalized in early December with a collapsed lung and a diagnosis of vaping-related lung illness. Mr. Moein contracted a mild case of Covid-19 during a family barbecue three months ago.

About 34 million adults smoke cigarettes in the United States, many of them from communities of color and low socioeconomic status — groups already known to be more vulnerable to the virus. And more than 5 million middle and high school students recently reported using vapes, according to a 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The pandemic risks becoming more than a short-term economic shock for an army of service workers across urban America. When companies dispatched office staff to work from home, cut sales trips and canceled business lunches, they also eliminated the jobs cleaning their offices and hotel rooms, driving them around town and serving them meals.

If white-collar America doesn’t return to the office, many service workers will be left with nobody to serve.

Maria Valdez, a laid-off housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, is scraping by with three children on a $ 314 weekly unemployment check. Kimber Adams, who lost her job as a bartender at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is pinning hopes on her plan to become a phlebotomist. Waldo Cabrera, let go from his job cleaning planes at the Miami airport, hopes an offer to drive a tanker truck in Texas will wait until he can move there.

All of them are eager to return to work. But with 11.5 million jobs lost since February and the government’s monthly report on Friday showing a slowdown in hiring, fear is budding many jobs will disappear permanently.

“Some law firms are finding that it is more productive for their lawyers to stay at home,” said Kristinia Bellamy, a janitor who was laid off from her job cleaning offices in Midtown Manhattan. “This might be the beginning of the end for these commercial office buildings.”

With Israel’s new daily infection rate now ranked among the highest in the world, the government has approved a plan to place dozens of the worst affected areas of the country under full or partial lockdown starting Monday.

After taking speedy action to bring the country’s outbreak under control earlier in the year, Israel’s infections have soared over the summer to around 2,000 new cases a day, reaching an alarming high of nearly 3,200 new cases on Wednesday. In the last seven days, it has recorded more than 14,000 cases, or 158 per 100,000 people — the seventh highest rate in the world, according to a New York Times database.

Though the mortality rate has been relatively low, that too has been rising, with coronavirus deaths now approaching 1,000 out of the country’s population of nine million.

Israel’s national coronavirus project manager, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, created a “traffic light” system that tracks local infection rates and grades cities and neighborhoods as red, orange, yellow or green zones according to a fixed set of criteria.

On Thursday, the government accepted Professor Gamzu’s recommendations that about 10 “red” areas enter full lockdown in the coming days, and another 20 be placed under tight restrictions, with the full list of orders to be finalized by Sunday.

Many ultra-Orthodox and Arab localities counted as red zones, and Professor Gamzu has come under attack from some politicians and mayors displeased with his proposals.

Shua Mansour Masarwa, the mayor of Taibe, an Arab “red” city in central Israel, said Professor Gamzu had based his calculations on faulty population data. After nearly a dozen predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were declared red, Moshe Lion, the mayor of Jerusalem, said on Friday that he had still not been officially informed of any measures.

Speaking on Thursday after the announcement that the government would move forward with his plan, Professor Gamzu stressed that the designations were not meant to embarrass the communities but to offer the intervention and assistance they need.

“This is a message to the entire State of Israel,” he said in a televised statement, according to the news site Ynet.com. “No weddings, no mass events, don’t flout the rules at a restaurant or anywhere.”

In other news from around the world:

  • New Zealand on Friday reported its first death from the virus in more than three months, after a man in his 50s who contracted the virus in Auckland died in a hospital. The country, which had previously come close to eliminating the virus, has recently seen a small spike in cases from an unknown source. “We have always recognized that further deaths linked to Covid-19 were possible,” said Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of the Health Ministry.

  • Doctors in South Korea on Friday agreed to end a two-week strike after the government committed not to push through medical system overhauls until after the coronavirus subsided. Thousands of doctors, mostly interns and residents, have been on strike since Aug. 21, protesting the government’s plan to increase the number of medical school students and open public medical schools. In a deal signed Friday, the Health Ministry and the Korea Medical Association, a lobby for doctors, agreed to revisit and review the government’s proposals after the epidemic is over. Some doctors criticized the deal as insufficient and threatened to continue their walkout.

  • France has closed 22 schools because of virus infections, the French education minister said on Friday, less than a week after millions of students returned to classes around the country amid a surge in cases. The minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, told Europe 1 radio that ten of the shuttered schools were in La Réunion, an overseas French territory in the Indian Ocean, and he noted that a vast majority of France’s 60,000 schools were still open. About a hundred or so classes were also closed, he said, adding that an entire school was usually shut down after the detection of three or four positive cases.

  • Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who tested positive this week for the virus, was admitted to a hospital Thursday night, his staff said. “There was the need for a small precautionary hospitalization,” Senator Licia Ronzulli, a close aide, said on the Italian TV show Agorà, “to monitor the development of Covid-19.” She added that Mr. Berlusconi, 83, was feeling good. Mr. Berlusconi, the leader of the center-right party Forza Italia and a media mogul, was initially asymptomatic and isolated in his mansion near Milan. He was hospitalized after the appearance of some symptoms, his staff said in a statement. “The clinical picture is not worrisome,” the statement added.

  • Just as Thailand reached 100 days without detecting a locally transmitted case of the coronavirus, health officials announced on Thursday that a man jailed for drug use was found to be infected. The man, who worked as a D.J. in Bangkok nightclubs, tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, a week after being admitted to a jail in the city. The discovery prompted a lockdown of the detention facility and dozens of inmates and staff members were placed in isolation. So far, no one else has tested positive, officials said.

  • At the height of Britain’s outbreak in April, there were more than 400 deaths daily among nursing home residents, according to data analysis by the PA Media news agency.

  • An alarming reversal is underway in Latin America: Millions of university students are leaving their studies as the pandemic grips the region, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. The exodus threatens decades of achievement that helped move entire communities out of poverty.


N.Y.C. parents facing constant changes in school reopening plans consider whether to send children in-person.

New York City, home to the nation’s largest school district, remains poised to be the only big city in the country to offer in-person education at the start of its school year. Yet many parents said they were exhausted from a summer of conflicting information and last-minute changes on school reopening, particularly the announcement earlier this week by Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the start of the school year to Sept. 21, just 10 days before school buildings were scheduled to open.

The mayor has faced resistance from some educators and politicians in his bid to reopen classrooms, but has said he is determined to bring children back into school buildings, even for one to three days a week, to support the city’s overwhelmingly Black, Latino and low-income student body.

Nearly 40 percent of parents have opted to have their children learn virtually through at least the first few months of the school year. That number, which could grow before the start of classes, reflects the deep divide among the city’s families about how to approach in-person learning.

In interviews, some parents said that remote learning in the spring had been a complete failure for their children, and that they were desperate to get them into schools as soon as possible. Others said there were simply too many unknowns about the coronavirus to reassure them that school buildings would be safe. And some said they were still grappling with whether they should send their children back or not.

In Queens, Adriana Aviles has been holding dress rehearsals for the first day of school. Her three children wear face masks at home all day, every other day, to practice for when they return to school buildings in a few weeks.

Ms. Aviles says her children cannot wait to go back to school, and she is frustrated by the recent delay.

“We’ll get some normalcy hopefully, and God willing we’ll be OK,” she said of the return to school. “We practiced what we need to practice.”

Elsewhere in the New York area:

  • New York will now allow salons, spas and tattoo and piercing parlors to begin offering services like facials and lip piercings under new state guidance released Thursday. Though personal-care businesses were allowed to resume operations in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, officials had continued to bar services that required customers to remove their face coverings. Under the new guidance, the employees administering those services must wear face shields and must test negative for the virus in order to perform them.

  • While many New York City residents with the wherewithal are moving to the suburbs, where they can find more space and work more comfortably from home, real estate agents are reporting a surge of interest from clients looking to live closer to their city jobs. For essential workers and those whose jobs require them to be on-site, the issue is especially germane.

Restaurants and bars in New Jersey reopened on Friday for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and movie theaters sold tickets for the first time since March.

At an IHOP in Edison, N.J., three indoor tables were filled at lunchtime. Everyone entered wearing masks and a manager took down diners’ telephone numbers for contact tracing before seating them.

“It felt like we rented out the whole place,” Joshua Naval, 21, said after a lunch of fried steak.

“Space and boundaries,” said his friend, Sayema Bhuiyan, 20. “It was similar to before — just a little more caution.”

Nearby, at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, indoor business was brisk. (The unshaded tables outside were largely empty at midday as the temperature reached 85 degrees.)

Wayne Martiak, of Point Pleasant, N.J., said his first indoor dining experience in six months was “very comfortable.”

“We’ve tried to be very careful,” said Mr. Martiak, who was eating with his daughter and granddaughter. He said he continued to avoid crowds, and places where few people are wearing masks. “If a place isn’t right, we’re not going there,” he said.

At a news conference on Friday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy warned that restaurants that violated the state’s restrictions would be punished. “The limits we have placed on capacities and the public health protocols we have put in place are not kind suggestions,” he said. “They are required.”

The state will also indefinitely extend a ban on smoking inside the state’s casinos during the pandemic, the governor said. When casinos were allowed to reopen for gambling in July, smoking, drinking and dining remained banned over concerns that people would not wear masks indoors.

Earlier this week, public health groups criticized language in the governor’s executive order that would have allowed indoor smoking to resume.

“We have looked closely at the science and agree with the experts who have concluded that allowing smoking is too big a risk to take,” Mr. Murphy said.

New Jersey’s casinos, all of which are in Atlantic City, were excluded from a 2006 law that prohibited smoking indoors in public buildings. Local laws restrict smoking to 25 percent of a casino’s gaming floor.

Amid a resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe, the European Union’s executive arm recommended on Friday that the 27 member nations coordinate their approach to travel within the bloc, with the aim of simplifying movement within what used to be a borderless zone.

Although European borders have reopened this summer, travel has become increasingly complicated because of discrepancies between national measures regarding obligatory quarantine and testing, as well as different methods for classifying high-risk areas.

This week, Hungary became the first E.U. member to close its borders completely to all nonresidents, including other European citizens. Belgium, in an abrupt announcement, banned nonessential travel to a number of European regions, and imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on travelers returning from those areas, which include Paris, a one-hour train ride away. Poland, equally suddenly, banned flight connections with 44 countries, including Spain and Romania.

Meanwhile, German health authorities are considering shortening quarantine periods for those who have been in contact with patients testing positive for the coronavirus or those returning from high-risk countries to five days from 14 days currently.

The proposal made by the European Commission, which must be voted on by ministers from member nations, puts forward a coordinated system of color coding for low-, medium- and high-risk areas of the continent. The system is based on information to be provided weekly by national governments on the number of new confirmed infections, the number of tests carried out and percentage that were positive.

The European Commission also called on national governments to adopt a single set of measures for all travelers from high-risk areas, and to communicate new restrictions in advance.

“People deserve to know in which zone they are,” said Ylva Johansson, the E.U.’s home affairs commissioner. “Both citizens and businesses need to have a degree of certainty.”

Reporting was contributed by Geneva Abdul, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Emma Bubola, Aurelien Breeden, Ben Casselman, Joyce Cohen, Choe Sang-hun, Michael Gold, Isabel Kershner, Richard C. Paddock, Gaia Pianigiani, Eduardo Porter, Monika Pronczuk, Campbell Robertson, Eliza Shapiro, Christopher F. Schuetze, Tracey Tully, Julie Turkewitz, Katherine J. Wu and Carl Zimmer.

Source: NYT > World News

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