Covid-19 Live Updates: After Criticism, C.D.C. Reverses Guidelines About Testing People Who Were Exposed – The New York Times

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reversed a recommendation suggesting that people who have had close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus do not need to get tested if they have no symptoms.

The agency’s move comes after widespread criticism of the guideline, as well as reporting from The New York Times indicating that the recommendation came from political appointees in the Trump administration and skipped the agency’s usual rigorous scientific review.

The Times reported Thursday that the guideline was posted on the C.D.C. website despite strenuous objections from its scientists.

The previous phrasing, which suggested asymptomatic people who have had close contact with an infected individual “do not necessarily need a test,” now clearly instructs them: “You need a test.”

Experts welcomed the change as consistent with research showing that people without symptoms can spread the virus to others.

“It’s good to see science and evidence taking a front seat for a change,” said Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

And Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, said, “I’m thrilled to see it, it clearly needed to be done.”

The original guidance, posted on Aug. 24, drew sharp criticism even from the C.D.C.’s partners, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which urged its members to continue testing people without symptoms.

In a statement Friday, Dr. Thomas File, the organization’s president, said “the return to a science-based based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health.”

United States › On Sept. 17 14-day

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Emails obtained by The Times illustrate how a top Trump health official and his science adviser attempted to browbeat career officials at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the height of the pandemic, challenging the science behind their public statements and attempting to silence agency staff.

The Times reported last week on pressures on the C.D.C. to change its weekly disease reports exerted by Michael R. Caputo, a former Trump campaign official installed by the White House in April as the top spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department, and his science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, a part-time assistant professor of health research methods. Mr. Caputo went on medical leave this week.

The emails, obtained by Noah Weiland of The Times, conform with what current and former C.D.C. officials called a five-month campaign of bullying.

One of the emails was written after Dr. Anne Schuchat, a 32-year veteran of the C.D.C., appealed to Americans to wear masks and warned, “We have way too much virus across the country.”

“She is duplicitous,” Dr. Alexander wrote to Mr. Caputo. He asked Mr. Caputo to “remind” Dr. Schuchat that during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009, thousands of Americans had died “under her work.”

Of Dr. Schuchat’s assessment of Covid-19’s dangers, Dr. Alexander fumed, wrongly, “The risk of death in children 0-19 years of age is basically 0 (zero) … PERIOD … she has lied.”

Mr. Caputo forwarded that assessment to Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director. When a member of the health department’s White House liaison office called the agency to ask questions about Dr. Schuchat’s biography, C.D.C. officials were left with the impression that some in Washington could have been searching for ways to fire her.

Far from hiding what they knew about the virus’s danger, as Bob Woodward’s new book contends President Trump was doing, the emails seem to indicate that aides in Washington were convinced of their own rosy prognostications, even as coronavirus cases were shooting skyward.

KEY DATA OF THE DAY

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Almost 1,000 Las Vegas casino employees have tested positive for the virus, according to reports on Thursday by two major casino operators. Wynn Resorts, which operates the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore on the Vegas strip, said 548 employees had tested positive. And Las Vegas Sands Corp, with The Venetian and Palazzo, reported 424 cases.

The announcements came as bars in Clark County, which includes Las Vega, were given permission to reopen on Sunday night at midnight. Both companies said testing began on May 11, but the vast majority of positive results have come since the casinos reopened in June. Wynn said in the most recent round of testing only one of 285 tests was positive.

As of Friday afternoon, the state has had more than 74,800 cases and more than 1,500 deaths, of which the vast majority were in Clark County, according to a New York Times database. The area is considered an “elevated disease transmission” county based on the state’s criteria, which includes tests per day, positivity rate and case rate.

The daily number of new cases peaked in late July, forcing the state to pull back efforts to reopen and continuing the hardship on its tourism-based economy.

Matt Maddox, chief executive of Wynn Resorts, said in a statement Thursday that the company had employed 10 full-time contact tracers and that hotel guests with possible exposure or symptoms are tested in their rooms. Six guests have tested positive out of more than 500,000 who have visited the casino since it reopened in early June, the statement said.

“Our goal,” Mr. Maddox said, “is to make Wynn Las Vegas the safest place our guests and employees can go outside of their own homes.”

Most Nevada casino operators have not made their testing results public.

In recent weeks, a state task force has allowed activities to resume as long as the numbers have been trending in the right direction, said Brian Labus, an epidemiologist at the at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Public Health, who serves on the governor’s medical advisory team.

“They’re taking in more factors than just the health considerations — they’re one of the hardest-hit economies in the country,” Professor Labus said. “There’s things that we would do that other places may not, because if you shut down tourism, you shut down the entire state.”

The task force voted on Thursday to allow Clark County and Elko County, which also has an “elevated disease transmission” status, to open bars. Bars must operate at half-capacity and all patrons and employees must wear masks unless they are “actively eating, drinking, or smoking,” according to state guidelines.

A spokesman for Wynn said that 98 percent of employees who tested positive had told contact tracers that they knew where they had been infected and it was not at the workplace. Experts questioned whether it was possible to definitively tell where transmission occurred. The company said 15,051 employees had been tested, and it reported a positivity rate of 3.6 percent.

Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

As Israelis prepare to celebrate the holiest days on the Jewish calendar under a fresh lockdown, organizing prayer services is proving to be more of a mathematical brainteaser than a spiritual exercise.

Rabbis must arrange worshipers into clusters of 20 to 50, separated by dividers, determining the size of the groups based on complex calculations involving local infection rates, and how many entrances and square feet their synagogues have. Masks will be required, and many seats will have to remain empty.

With the virus rampaging again, Israel became one of the few places in the world to go into a second lockdown. The rules took effect on Friday, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

The government has issued a list of restrictions — along with a plethora of exemptions that many criticize as a formula for confusion and noncompliance.

The atmosphere in the run-up to the holidays was more despairing than joyous.

“These are not the holidays we were hoping for,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the president of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based Jewish education group with emissaries around the world. “The fragility of life is upon us, but I see people rising to the occasion.”

The three-week national lockdown was timed to coincide with the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur holy days and the festival of Sukkot, in the hope of causing less economic damage because business slows down in any case around the holidays. It was also aimed at preventing large family meals that could become petri dishes for the virus.

Israel successfully limited the spread of the virus in the spring, but the number of cases, when adjusted for population, has risen to among the highest in the world. The country has had more than 300 confirmed new cases per 100,000 people over the last week — more than double the rate in Spain, the hardest-hit European country, and quadruple that of the United States.

The holiday will also be transformed, of course, for Jews outside of Israel. Across the United States, Jewish people are grappling with how to mark the high holidays, traditionally a time to contemplate themes of repentance, reckoning and renewal.

Many synagogues have focused on preparing elaborate online productions. (Though not the Orthodox communities, who are taught to eschew technology on the Sabbath.)

“I feel like I have learned how to be a 1950s live television producer,” said Serge Lippe, the senior rabbi of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, a reform congregation. “I have been running a show and producing cuts and all kinds of things I have never had to think about.”

Education Roundup

Credit…Lola Gomez/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

As millions of American students have returned to school across the country in recent weeks, cases have forced quarantines and shutdowns, and a few states, including Texas and Ohio, have rolled out online dashboards to track cases in schools.

Determining the impact of school openings on the broader trajectory of the pandemic has been difficult as reporting from states and districts has been spotty and inconsistent, with officials in some places refusing to reveal case numbers.

Texas introduced its tracker on Thursday, revealing that, among roughly 1.1 million students who have returned to classrooms or participated in on-campus activities since late July, at least 2,300 students have tested positive.

Among roughly 800,000 school employees, at least 2,100 have tested positive statewide. Texas officials said that next week they would start sharing a breakdown of the number of new cases reported weekly in each school district.

Ohio, where many fewer students have returned to school in person, released district-by-district numbers for the first time on Thursday. Many districts showed no reported cases. Statewide, 197 students and 122 staff members had tested positive in public and private schools, according to a total computed by The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Kentucky has said it will also roll out a public dashboard in the coming days on school data, reporting cases and how many people have been quarantined.

The number of cases reported by schools will almost certainly be an undercount, experts say, because children in particular are likely to be asymptomatic when carrying the virus, and are unlikely to be tested in the absence of symptoms.

In other education news:

  • A high school student in Attleboro, Mass., went to the first day of in-person classes on Monday despite testing positive for the virus days earlier. Roughly 30 people at Attleboro High School who came into contact with the student are now in quarantine. Attleboro’s mayor said that the student’s parents knew he had tested positive when they sent him to school.

  • Police in Mitchell, S.D., removed a man from a school board meeting for refusing to put on a mask in violation of district policy. Several speakers later criticized the mask mandate and asked why parents had not been surveyed about whether they supported it. “A survey wouldn’t change my mind,” one member of the school board said.

  • Northeastern University in Boston has agreed to refund most of the fall semester tuition of 11 first-year students who were dismissed earlier this month for violating the school’s coronavirus rules by gathering in a room without masks or social distancing.

  • More than 1,000 students and employees at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., have been instructed to quarantine, according to the school’s coronavirus dashboard. There are currently 141 active cases of the virus at the school, one of the world’s largest private evangelical universities, with 137 infections among students and four among employees.

NEW YORK ROUNDUP

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

New York City will soon let restaurants add a temporary charge of up to 10 percent as help in the pandemic, (though not for takeout or delivery), as long as it is clearly noted on menus.

The charge, which comes before tax, will be allowed until 90 days after the date, yet to be determined, when indoor dining is fully restored. (Indoor dining resumes on Sept. 30 at 25 percent capacity.)

New York restaurateurs have long fought to strike down a city rule that forbids such surcharges, which are allowed elsewhere. In the pandemic, a city-sanctioned fee may be a way to allow restaurants to increase revenue without raising food prices, and to ascribe the charge to government.

But in interviews, many restaurant owners said they weren’t ready to add the new surcharge, especially at the full 10 percent.

In Manhattan’s tourist-dependent Little Italy, the owner of Da Nico Ristorante, Nick Criscitelli, has kept on most of his staff and hasn’t raised prices, despite the costs of protective masks, gloves and the retrofitting of his backyard garden for outdoor dining. But he has no plans to add the temporary surcharge

“Our customers are all families,” and during the pandemic most are neighbors and other regulars whose finances are as challenged as his own, Mr. Criscitelli said. “So why should we charge them any extra? It’s hard for them to come out now.”

A growing group of restaurateurs and activists urging the City Council to add some restrictions to the surcharge that will improve conditions for workers, such as limiting it to restaurants that pay their entire staff, including servers, at least the full city minimum wage or above, as he does.

Elsewhere in the area:

  • In New York City, where mask compliance has been generally high in most indoor settings, many of these confrontations are playing out on buses, where dozens of drivers have been attacked after trying to enforce the rules.

  • The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles is expanding online services, the governor said Friday. A pilot program will offer digital written tests for learners’ permits for passenger cars and motorcycles. Another pilot program will allow residents of counties with state-run D.M.V. offices to register their vehicles.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

China’s CanSino Biologics and a military-backed research institute are preparing to start clinical trials of a two-dose regimen of their coronavirus vaccine after scientists raised concerns that their current treatment, which required only one dose, did not produce a strong enough immune response.

The vaccine made by CanSino and researchers from the People’s Liberation Army is one of four Chinese candidates in late-stage trials, which are being conducted in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It was previously promoted by Chinese state media as a front-runner in the race to develop a vaccine, but it struggled to get Phase 3 trials started in Canada.

Unlike the other Chinese vaccines, the single-dose vaccine is made with a cold virus, called Ad5, which many people probably have already been exposed to. About half of the participants in the trial had powerful antibodies to Ad5 before they got the vaccine, according to a May report in the Lancet. The researchers in China found that people who had Ad5 antibodies were less likely to develop a strong immune response.

Researchers from the Academy of Military Sciences filed the application to start clinical trials of the two-dose regimen on Thursday, according to clinical trial registry data in the United States. They said Phase 1 trials would start Sunday and end in June.

“We are exploring different vaccination methods and doses,” Hou Lihua, a researcher at the Academy of Military Sciences, said in a telephone interview.

In May, CanSino and the military institute published promising results from a Phase 1 safety trial, and in July they reported that their Phase 2 trials demonstrated the vaccine produced a strong immune response. But the researchers also wrote in the Lancet that the people who got the highest dose also experienced the most side effects.

  • More than 30 million cases have been reported worldwide as of Friday morning, according to a New York Times database. India, in particular, has recently contributed significantly to the count, having added more than 93,000 new cases a day on average over the last week.

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia on Friday raised the cap on international arrivals to 6,000 from 4,000 people a week, after critics accused him of leaving citizens stranded overseas. Approximately 24,000 Australians are currently outside the country, Mr. Morrison said, adding that he hoped many of them would be home by Christmas. The state of Queensland also said on Friday that it would allow flights to resume to and from the Australian Capital Territory next week. Australia has reported 297 new cases in the past week, and its second-largest city, Melbourne, remains under lockdown.

  • New Zealand recorded no new cases of the virus on Friday for the first time in more than a month, after an outbreak in Auckland in August threatened the country’s progress in keeping the virus at bay. The country now has just 70 active cases. Of those, 37 are from community transmission and the rest are from overseas arrivals.

  • Alongside England’s sharp increase in coronavirus cases, the number of people hospitalized with the virus is also doubling roughly every eight days. Nearly 200 people were admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, according to the latest government statistics, compared with 84 on Sept. 7. Local lockdowns which bar people from meeting with anyone from outside their household began in northeastern England on Friday, and the same restrictions will go into effect starting Tuesday in parts of northwestern England, Yorkshire and the Midlands, the government announced.

  • Sciences Po, one of France’s most prestigious universities, is closing its Paris campus for 14 days after a significant number of students tested positive for the virus. Classes will be held online. And Nice, the country’s fifth-largest city, banned social gatherings of more than 10 people in parks, gardens and beaches to try to slow the spread of the virus. Cases have surpassed 50 per 100,000 people in Nice, where a third of the residents are considered elderly. The sale and consumption of alcohol is also forbidden after 8 p.m. and bars will have to close at 12:30 a.m. Bordeaux and Marseille are facing similar rules.

  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has extended a national state of emergency until September 2021. Last month, the Philippine Congress extended Mr. Duterte’s emergency powers to address the pandemic, and it passed legislation allocating support for low-income households and people who lost their jobs because of the crisis.

  • A ban on nonessential travel between the United States and Canada that was set to expire Sept. 21 has been extended to Oct. 21, Mark A. Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, announced in a tweet on Friday. The restriction has been repeatedly extended since it was put in place in March.

A shipment of some 20,400 counterfeit N95 respirator masks was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Boston earlier this month, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.

The shipment, which was sent from Hong Kong and intercepted by officers at Boston’s International Cargo Port, had an estimated value of $163,200, according to the release.

The seized shipment is only the latest example of scammers attempting to profiteer from fake personal protective equipment, a trend that spiked in the early days of the pandemic when shortages of masks and other equipment were widespread.

As the first wave of the pandemic approached in March, China struggled to shut down tens of thousands of shops making fake masks and other testing equipment, some of which was shipped abroad. In April, two men were arrested in California for a scheme to sell a $4 million stockpile of masks that did not exist.

According to the C.B.P. release, criminal organizations overseas are still attempting to export a wide variety of counterfeit equipment related to the coronavirus. “Among other products, these criminals are smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment, unapproved Covid-19 test kits, unproven medicines and substandard hygiene products through the online marketplace,” the agency said.

Arguments ended Thursday in what may well be the country’s longest-ever virtual jury trial after a series of technical mishaps and at least three requests for a mistrial.

Defendants in the case — an asbestos-related lawsuit filed in Alameda County, Calif. — complained that jurors appeared to be sleeping, working out and caring for children during the trial, and that they got chummy with the plaintiff, helping him create a virtual backdrop for his video feed. The lawyers for the defendants said that they were unable to see jurors’ reactions because no camera was trained on them, and the lawyers said that for a time they were unable to voice objections because they were muted.

The judge, Brad Seligman of Alameda County Superior Court, declined to declare a mistrial.

The pandemic has forced courts across the country to conduct virtual hearings, with mixed results. A Florida judge admonished lawyers not to appear shirtless or in bed. A federal hearing on Georgia’s voting machines was hacked, showing images of 9/11, a swastika and pornography. Lawyers and scholars have raised numerous concerns over fairness, questioning things like whether video alters perceptions of credibility.

Going remote has had a host of effects, said Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts. More people are appearing for their court dates, but jury pools are skewing whiter, more male and younger, Ms. Hannaford-Agor said, probably because of the need for access to technology to participate.

In order to conduct virtual hearings, Ms. Hannaford-Agor said, courts must develop technical expertise, train jurors and other participants, and watch their behavior closely.

Only a handful of courts have tried to conduct full jury trials remotely. The trial in Alameda, a hot spot for asbestos litigation, involves a claim by Ronald Wilgenbusch, a retired admiral who has mesothelioma, that he became ill because he was exposed to asbestos manufactured by Metalclad Insulation.

The trial began June 29 with the jury in the courtroom but witnesses and most of the lawyers on video. After a juror developed a fever in late July, the trial became all virtual, over the defendants’ objections.

David Amell, a lawyer for Mr. Wilgenbusch and his wife, Judith, who is also a plaintiff in the case, said the pandemic had been a “windfall” for asbestos defendants because it offered them more opportunities to delay proceedings involving terminally ill clients.

Metalclad, for its part, has complained of repeated changes in procedure, a lack of written guidelines and a failure to adequately test the streaming technology.

Every day, Times reporters debunk false and misleading information that is going viral online.

Kevin Roose, who covers technology for The Times, writes:

This week, Tucker Carlson hosted a Chinese virologist named Dr. Li-Meng Yan on his Fox News show. Dr. Yan, who has made regular appearances in conservative media outlets this year, claimed to have “solid scientific evidence” that the novel coronavirus is “not from nature,” that it was created in a lab under a Chinese military program, and that it was spread intentionally outside China as part of a biowarfare plot.

But none of Dr. Yan’s claims are justified by the scientific evidence. The vast majority of scientists who have studied the coronavirus agree that it originated naturally, and spread to humans from an animal species, such as a bat. And although scientists can’t rule out the possibility that the virus originated in a lab studying animals such as bats, it is vanishingly unlikely that it was genetically engineered and intentionally released.

Credit…YouTube

Still, Dr. Yan’s explosive claims quickly went viral on social media. A video clip of her Tucker Carlson show appearance has gotten two million views on YouTube, and nearly a million views on Facebook. Conservative influencers like Dennis Prager, Mike Huckabee and David J. Harris Jr. have also shared her claims.

On Wednesday, Facebook and Instagram began flagging posts from Mr. Carlson’s show about Dr. Yan’s claims, saying that they repeated information about the coronavirus “that multiple independent fact checkers say is false.”

Credit…Facebook

Twitter suspended Dr. Yan’s account on Wednesday, which provoked another round of viral posts, including accusations by Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri that Twitter was “openly on the side of Beijing.”

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.

Public health authorities, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have also noted that while the exact source of the virus is still unknown, the evidence strongly suggests a natural origin. “The sequences from U.S. patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir,” explained a post on the C.D.C.’s website.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Peter Baker, Alexander Burns, Sarah Cahalan, Julia Carmel, Shaila Dewan, Sydney Ember, Nicholas Fandos, Antonella Francini, Ruth Graham, Katie Glueck, Christina Goldbaum, Jason Gutierrez, Mike Ives, Andrea Kannapell, Isabel Kershner, Apoorva Mandavilli, Constant Méheut, Zachary Montague, Kevin Roose, Anna Schaverien, David Segal, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Liam Stack, Matt Stevens, Glenn Thrush, Amber Wang, Sui-Lee Wee and Rachel Wharton.

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Covid-19 Live Updates: After Criticism, C.D.C. Reverses Guidelines About Testing People Who Were Exposed – The New York Times

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