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Texas Has Too Many Cases to Reopen, Governor Warns – The New York Times

Aug 11, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

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ImageMedics treat a woman with Covid-like symptoms in Austin last week.
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

The governor of Texas says virus cases are still too numerous to warrant reopening.

Gov. Greg Abbott, meeting with leaders in Texas’s sprawling Gulf Coast region to discuss his Covid-19 strategy, strongly suggested Tuesday that hospitalizations and cases from the virus remained far too high to allow a swift relaxation of business closures and other restrictions.

The Republican governor, who traveled to Beaumont and Victoria, cited signs of progress but indicated Texas still had a long way to go in overcoming a relentless surge that made it one of the nation’s leading hot spots in the pandemic. For the past week, Texas added an average of about 7,560 cases per day, compared to a peak seven-day average of over 10,000 cases per day in mid-July.

Mr. Abbott has set a 10 percent positive test rate as a fundamental goal in countering the coronavirus. Positive rates should be at or below 5 percent for at least 14 days before a state or country can safely reopen, according to the World Health Organization. And despite a falling rate of hospitalization — 7,200 now, down from a late-July high of around 11,000, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services — hospitals remained overburdened, Mr. Abbott said at a news conference during his first stop at Beaumont.

“The most important thing I can convey today is that even though the numbers of Covid-19 have improved,” he said, “Covid-19 has not left Jefferson County, has not left Orange County, has not left the State of Texas.”

The two cities are about four hours apart but each sits about 30 miles from the Gulf Coast, which stretches for about 600 miles along Texas’s meandering shoreline. A downturn in Covid measurements in the Beaumont region, the governor said, suggests that “the numbers are moving in the right direction.”

During briefings at both stops, the governor and local officials discussed state aid in the Covid-19 fight, upcoming school openings and Gov. Abbott’s layered implementation of restrictions that have included mandatory face masks as well as widespread business closures that have prompted an outcry from conservatives in his own party.

Although Mr. Abbott said he understood the hardships faced by those struggling “to pay the rent, to put food on the table,” he strongly signaled that he planned to stay the course with his current policies until the pandemic was solidly under control, noting that the virus began to surge after an initial round of reopenings.

“We have to be vigilant right now to be sure that we continue to slow the spread of Covid-19,” Mr. Abbott said. Reopenings could be possible, he said, “if we’re able to get to a positive rate of well below 10 percent and maintain that positivity rate.”

State Republicans have protested Mr. Abbott’s decision not to reopen the state fully, saying he has undercut the economy. A number of conservative legislators have also complained that Mr. Abbott’s executive orders on the virus have overstepped his constitutional authority — that instead of issuing orders, he should have called for a special session of the Texas Legislature.

Texas school districts have been given flexibility to call their own shots on when and how to reopen amid the pandemic, including whether or not to allow in-person instruction, virtual online learning or a combination of both. School districts can choose their own opening date and will also be allowed to close a school or even a classroom in the event of an outbreak, he said.

Emerging clusters at U.S. schools and on high school teams raise concerns about wider community spread.

Credit…Cj Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

In a small community north of Birmingham, Ala., an entire high school football team was quarantined last week when a fifth player tested positive for the coronavirus. In Cherokee County, Ga., school district administrators posted a tally Tuesday morning of everyone ordered into quarantine: 826 students and 42 staff members.

Across the country, concerns are growing that as many districts, especially in the South, reopen for in-person classes, schools are becoming a setting where new clusters of cases are erupting.

The numbers are not yet anywhere near those of the clusters that have cropped up in nursing homes, prisons and food processing plants. Nursing homes alone account for more than 382,000 cases and more than 64,000 deaths in the United States, according to a New York Times database.

Yet many experts fear that schools have the potential to transmit the virus widely in the community.

Phil Phillips, the coach of the high school football team in Oneonta, Ala., told a local television station, WBMA, that he was not sure how his five players had caught the virus but was concerned about it spreading further. Players were tested after showing symptoms or having a family member test positive.

“I looked my wife in the eyes Monday night before I went to bed and said, I sure hope we didn’t kill anybody’s grandmother today by having a football practice,” Mr. Phillips told the news station last week. “You’re torn, because these kids want to play so bad.”

Football teams, which often meet for practices over the summer, have been one early indicator of the potential spread among students. In July, 18 students, three coaches and 17 of their close contacts became ill after an outbreak in Kentucky on the Hazard High School football team.

And in a small town in Minnesota, Lewiston-Altura High School became the center of a cluster last week when at least six football players tested positive for the virus after attending training camp. The players’ families told the school they had not shown symptoms during training. The school canceled football practices for the rest of the month, but it is still set to open for a mix of in-person and online classes in September.

Universities concerned about their classrooms and dorms for the fall are finding that they have yet another challenging setting to worry about: on-campus child care centers.

At Appalachian State University in North Carolina, where students returned to campus this week and classes are set to begin on Monday, 10 children and five staff members of a child care facility on campus had already tested positive for the virus as of Friday. Faculty and staff members are calling for better tracking of the virus on campus.

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‘It’s really risky.’ Russia approving a vaccine before it completed Phase 3 tests prompts alarm from experts.

Credit…The Russian Direct Investment Fu, via Reuters

The announcement raised alarm around the world that Moscow is cutting corners on testing to score political and propaganda points. The scientific body that developed the Russian vaccine, the Gamaleya Institute, has yet to conduct Phase 3 tests on tens of thousands of volunteers in highly controlled trials, a process seen as the only method of ensuring a vaccine is actually safe and effective.

The World Health Organization had warned last week that Russia should not stray from the usual methods of testing a vaccine for safety and effectiveness. But Mr. Putin was adamant that the trials were sufficient.

“It works effectively enough, forms a stable immunity and, I repeat, it has gone through all necessary tests,” Mr. Putin said on Tuesday, despite the criticism, adding that one of his daughters had taken the vaccine.

The Gamaleya Institute said that a Phase 3 trial would begin Wednesday involving more than 2,000 people. (All other Phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trials are more than 10 times larger than that.) Russia’s minister of health, Mikhail Murashko, said teachers and medical workers would be vaccinated starting this month.

“This is all beyond stupid,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “Putin doesn’t have a vaccine, he’s just making a political statement.”

Around the world, 29 vaccines out of a total of more than 165 under development are in various stages of human trials.

The timing of Russia’s announcement makes it “very unlikely that they have sufficient data about the efficacy of the product,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician and infectious disease expert at the University of Florida who has warned against rushing the vaccine-approval process. Dr. Dean noted that vaccines that have produced promising data from early trials in humans have flopped at later stages.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced a $1.5 billion agreement with the Massachusetts biotech company Moderna to manufacture and deliver 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, which entered a late-stage, Phase 3 clinical trial last month, the first to hit that mark in the United States.

The deal, which was announced by President Trump at a White House news conference, also allows the federal government to acquire up to 400 million more doses of the vaccine. The vaccine would first need strong results in its clinical trial and approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Moderna previously received nearly $1 billion in federal support for its vaccine, which was developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announce they will not play football this fall.

Credit…Aj Mast/Associated Press

College football fractured on Tuesday as the Big Ten and the Pac-12, two of the sport’s wealthiest and most powerful conferences, abandoned their plans to play this fall during the coronavirus pandemic, even as other top leagues stayed publicly poised to begin games next month.

The decisions extended the greatest crisis in the history of college athletics, a multibillion-dollar industry that often depends on football revenue to balance budgets and subsidize lower-profile sports. The conferences also defied calls this week by coaches, players and President Trump to mount a season in the face of the virus’s largely unchecked rampage across the United States.

President Trump, at a news conference on Tuesday, said the college football season should start. “They are going to be out there playing football and they will be able to fight it off, and hopefully, it won’t bother them one bit,” he said.

Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, said Tuesday that it had become “abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

Canceling the Big Ten season in its entirety would have assuredly starved schools of tens of millions of dollars. Now some of that money could be delayed instead, causing new pain on campuses but perhaps arresting a graver economic calamity for college athletics.

Still, in a statement on Tuesday, leaders at Wisconsin, which had suggested it could miss out on up to $100 million without a football season, said there would be “a major financial impact on not only our athletic department, but the many businesses and members of our community who rely on Badger events to support their livelihoods.”

The Atlantic Coast Conference said on Tuesday that it was moving forward with plans to start the season, but that it was ready to adjust those plans if necessary. It said it was satisfied with the protocols being administrated on its 15 campuses and would make decisions based on medical advice.

Key Data of the Day

The virus is killing young Floridians. Work, not partying, is often to blame.

In Florida, more than 100 adults aged 25 to 44 died of the virus last month, a troubling trend that does not align with what the state’s governor has said throughout the pandemic — that the toll was largely limited to the very old.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that Florida has seen more coronavirus-related deaths in people over 90 than in people under 65. But a review of state data by The New York Times shows that the trend is changing: In July, deaths of residents under 65 outnumbered those over 90, and more Floridians in the 25-44 age group died that month than in the previous four months combined. On Tuesday, Florida reported 276 new deaths overall, breaking the state’s single-day record again.

Health officials have worried that as Florida and other states reopened, young people were not following public health guidelines and were flocking to parties and bars, leading to new outbreaks.

Coronavirus Deaths Rise for Younger Adults

More than 80 percent of coronavirus deaths in Florida are attributed to residents over the age of 65, but since a surge in deaths in July, the number of younger people dying has also increased substantially.





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Weekly deaths by age group

Weekly deaths by age group

Weekly deaths by age group


Source: Florida Department of Health

By Jugal K. Patel

However, the young people who are dying in Florida are not necessarily the partygoers. One was a clerk at a convenience store, another a restaurant cook, and at least three worked in long-term care facilities. Most of these young Floridians were Black.

Nationally, the share of all deaths that occur in younger age groups remains small — just 38 out of every 1,000 virus deaths in July — but that is up from 22 per 1,000 in May.

These figures only include deaths that are officially attributed to the virus, meaning that they almost certainly understate the true death toll.

Cases are spiking in parts of Latin America that once had the virus under control.

Credit…Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Cases are spiking in countries in Latin America that previously had the virus under control, including Colombia and Argentina, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, the head of the Pan American Health Organization said on Tuesday. She said the Americas continue to be the center of the virus and that the United States accounts for the majority of new infections.

The United States leads all countries in cases, with 5.1 million. More than 47,000 cases and more than 530 deaths were announced across the nation Monday. The next highest caseloads are Brazil, with three million confirmed cases, and India, with 2.3 million.

The virus has infected more than 20 million people worldwide, a number that has doubled in about six weeks, according to a New York Times database. The global death toll has reached nearly 735,000.

Dr. Etienne also highlighted how the pandemic is weakening the fight against other diseases, and said that she is particularly worried about the fight against H.I.V. in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We have data indicating that 30 percent of people living with H.I.V. are avoiding seeking care during the pandemic,” she said, adding that if people went off their medications, it would make them more likely to spread H.I.V. to their partners.

New York Comic Con is going online.

Credit…Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

The annual New York Comic Con, which was scheduled to be held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Oct. 8 through Oct. 11, is going virtual. It is the latest comic book convention to go online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

ReedPOP, which operates New York Comic Con, announced Tuesday that it would offer New York Comic Con’s Metaverse, an online convention experience, in a partnership with YouTube, on the same dates. It will offer livestream panels about television series, including “American Gods” on Starz, and use YouTube’s live chat features to allow fans to participate in discussions.

The convention programming includes watch parties, professional workshops and the ability to buy three-minute-long virtual meet-and-greets.

A big plus of the virtual comic cons is not needing to wait in lines amid the crowds.

The New York Comic Con Metaverse will be the second virtual con from ReedPOP. The first one is Thursday through Sunday.

U.S. ROUNDUP

Inside a Houston hospital’s battle with the virus.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

As virus infections surged in Texas this summer, Houston Methodist Hospital opened one intensive care unit after another for the most critically ill.

In one of the hospital’s I.C.U.s, many patients or their families gave the Times journalists Sheri Fink, Emily Rhyne and Erin Schaff permission to follow their care. The 24-bed unit, where more than 60 percent of the patients who were there in mid-July identified as Hispanic, is a microcosm for a country where the pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos.

Inside, machines beep to indicate danger, doctors rush in to perform procedures, and patients experience alternating waves of improvement and decline. Veteran staff members cry in their cars, never having seen so much severe illness and death all at once.

“It’s hurt me to see so many of my people,” said Lluvialy Faz, a critical care nurse on the unit who is Hispanic. “I feel like it’s really hit our community, and my community, more.”

Many of these patients endure cascading tragedies, with multiple relatives struck by the virus. A man recovers and goes home from the hospital, but leaves his critically ill wife behind. A patriarch with two dozen ailing family members fights for his life after attending his son’s funeral. And a grandmother may die because she celebrated a grandchild’s birthday.

Elsewhere in the U.S.:

  • Across 20 major U.S. cities, the murder rate at the end of June was on average 37 percent higher than it was at the end of May, according to Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The increase over the same period a year ago was just 6 percent.

  • Hurricane-force winds ripped through four states on Monday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers as officials were already dealing with the pressures of the pandemic. Part of a roof was torn off an assisted-living facility in Boone County, Iowa, forcing the evacuation of six Covid-19 patients, the governor said. Drive-up testing sites in Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids and Davenport were closed Monday because of the storm, though they may be able to reopen later on Tuesday.

  • The human health care system has struggled financially through the pandemic, losing billions from the cancellations of lucrative elective operations as patients were first told to stay away from hospitals and then were leery of setting foot in one. The canine and feline health system, though, is booming.

  • New Yorkers may have paid quadruple what they should have for eggs at a time when virus cases were surging, according to a lawsuit by the state attorney general’s office.

  • Georgia on Tuesday reported 117 new deaths, a single-day record for the state.

A team of scientists produces ‘unambiguous evidence that there is infectious virus in aerosols.’

Credit…Felipe Trueba/EPA, via Shutterstock

Skeptics of the notion that the coronavirus spreads through the air — including many expert advisers to the World Health Organization — have held out for one missing piece of evidence: proof that floating respiratory droplets called aerosols contain live virus, and not just fragments of genetic material.

Now a team of virologists and aerosol scientists has produced exactly that: confirmation of infectious virus in the air.

“This is what people have been clamoring for,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne spread of viruses who was not involved in the work. “It’s unambiguous evidence that there is infectious virus in aerosols.”

A research team at the University of Florida succeeded in isolating live virus from aerosols collected at a distance of seven to 16 feet from patients hospitalized with the virus — farther than the six feet recommended in social distancing guidelines.

The findings, posted online last week, have not yet been vetted by peer review, but have already caused something of a stir among scientists. “If this isn’t a smoking gun, then I don’t know what is,” Dr. Marr tweeted last week.

In the new study, researchers collected air samples at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. The team was able to collect virus at distances of about seven and 16 feet from Covid-19 patients and then to show that the virus they had plucked from the air could infect cells in a lab dish.

But other experts said it was difficult to extrapolate from the findings to estimate an individual’s infection risk.

“I’m just not sure that these numbers are high enough to cause an infection in somebody,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York.

“The only conclusion I can take from this paper is you can culture viable virus out of the air,” she said. “But that’s not a small thing.”

Connecticut fines two people who violated the state’s travel restrictions, officials say.

Officials in Connecticut said this week that they had issued fines for the first time to people who violated rules meant to keep the virus from spilling in from other parts of the country, a signal that the state was ramping up enforcement of its travel restrictions.

Connecticut requires people who have been in states and territories with outbreaks that meet certain health criteria to quarantine for 14 days and fill out a required health form that includes their names and email addresses. On Tuesday, Connecticut’s restrictions applied to travelers from dozens of states and two territories outside the Northeast, including California, Texas and Illinois.

Connecticut officials said this week that two people broke the travel rules in late July. One drove back to the state from Florida, but did not fill out the form, Josh Geballe, chief operating officer for Connecticut, said Tuesday. That person was fined $1,000 on Monday.

Another person flew back to Connecticut from Louisiana, did not fill out the form and did not self-quarantine. That person, who was reported to the state by a co-worker, was fined $2,000.

“I hate to do it, but we are going to be serious and show people we are serious about this,” Connecticut’s governor, Ned Lamont, said Monday at a news conference referring to the fines.

The state is investigating about a dozen other complaints it has received about possible violations, Mr. Geballe said.

“For the most part, people are complying,” he said. “When people see the wrong behavior, I think they’re calling it out.”

Mr. Lamont said that travel from “Covid-infected states” into Connecticut had significantly decreased.

As they seek to manage the outbreaks, many states in the country have a variety of measures in place for travelers from other states. On Tuesday, New York said that it would now require travelers from Hawaii, South Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands to quarantine for 14 days, adding to a list of 29 other states and Puerto Rico. The weekly update also saw Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington State removed from the list. New Jersey also said travelers from those 33 places were subject to a 14-day quarantine, though complying is voluntary.

Some wedding gatherings won’t be subjected to the 50-person cap, a New York State judge rules.

Credit…Neeta Satam for The New York Times

The ruling, by Judge Glenn Suddaby of Federal District Court for the Northern District of New York, would allow wedding venues to host parties of more than 50 people under the same rules that apply to restaurants. The rules now limit indoor service to half a restaurant’s typical capacity.

Because indoor dining has not yet been allowed in New York City, the ruling would not appear to apply to wedding venues there.

The decision, which was issued on Friday, came in response to a lawsuit filed by two couples who had booked weddings at the Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, N.Y., about a half-hour’s drive northeast of Buffalo.

Lawyers for the state argued in legal filings that “the court should not second-guess the state’s response to a health crisis.”

But the plaintiffs argued in their complaint that their wedding parties should be allowed to proceed because the Arrowhead rooms that are used for receptions were large enough to legally seat well over 50 people when operating as restaurants.

Judge Suddaby agreed.

“The court can find no rational basis for this state’s difference in treatment between use of the venues in question for ordinary dining and use of those venues for weddings,” he wrote, noting that the plaintiffs and the Arrowhead’s owners had pledged to abide by social distancing, mask wearing and all other public-health rules adopted amid the pandemic.

Anthony Rupp, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he was “extraordinarily pleased” with the ruling.

Caitlin Girouard, the governor’s press secretary, described Judge Suddaby’s ruling as “irresponsible at best as it would allow for large, nonessential gatherings that endanger public health” and said the administration would “pursue all available legal remedies immediately.”

Reporting was contributed by Sarah Almukhtar, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Luke Broadwater, Nick Bruce, Troy Closson, Emily Cochrane, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Shaila Dewan, Caitlin Dickerson, John Eligon, Sheri Fink, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Robert Gebeloff, Matthew Haag, Danielle Ivory, Sarah Kliff, Andrew E. Kramer, Mark Landler, Apoorva Mandavilli, Patrick McGeehan, Sarah Mervosh, David Montgomery, Alan Rappeport, Emily Rhyne, Frances Robles, Erin Schaff, Ed Shanahan, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Eileen Sullivan, Lucy Tompkins, Julie Turkewitz, Noah Weiland, Will Wright, Katherine J. Wu, Jin Wu, Elaine Yu, Mihir Zaveri, Carl Zimmer and Karen Zraick.

An earlier version of this briefing mistakenly attributed the falling rate of hospitalizations in Texas; the figure came from the Texas Department of State Health Services. It also included an incorrect figure for current hospitalizations in the state, which is 7,200.