‘Be smart’: New Yorkers get good news on virus numbers, but also a warning.
The share of virus tests coming back positive in New York State has stayed below 1 percent for 30 straight days, suggesting that the state’s aggressive approach to containing its outbreak — once the most severe in the country — has largely worked.
The state’s positivity rate, announced on Sunday, remained below 1 percent even as parts of the economy gradually reopened, the number of people being tested continued to trend upward, and other states grappled with sharply rising case counts.
But for all the encouragement offered by the monthlong marker, many New Yorkers remain anxious heading into the fall and winter, when case counts could rise as the nation’s largest public school district and more businesses are preparing to reopen.
Even Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in announcing the figure, took the opportunity to urge not celebration but continued restraint, pointing in a statement to New York’s approach to reopening — slower and more controlled than in most other states — as well as its statewide mask mandate.
“Caution is a virtue, not a vice,” Mr. Cuomo said.
New York State is now averaging slightly more than 700 cases a day, according to a New York Times database — up a bit from about 600 in late August, but still a fraction of the 9,000 to 10,000 cases a day it was reporting at the peak in April. The number of people in hospitals because of the virus dropped to 410 on Saturday, the lowest figure since March 16.
The governor’s announcement came in the middle of a holiday weekend that, like others before it, seemed certain to tempt many to gather socially as the summer wanes. Mr. Cuomo warned that the state’s gains could be imperiled by any backsliding on precautions like mask wearing and social distancing.
“Our actions today determine the rate of infection tomorrow,” he said. “So as the Labor Day weekend continues, I urge everyone to be smart, so we don’t see a spike in the weeks ahead.”
A recent outbreak at the State University of New York at Oneonta, a public college in Central New York, showed how quickly new clusters can flare up.
After some students held large parties, more than 500 students there tested positive; officials canceled in-person instruction for the semester less than two weeks after it began, closed the school’s dormitories and sent students home.
On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said a state rapid testing team sent to the City of Oneonta had found 91 more cases, largely among college-age adults.
Kamala Harris expresses distrust of any vaccine promoted by President Trump.
Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said she would not trust President Trump’s assurances that a coronavirus vaccine was safe, and instead would wait for medical experts to confirm the vaccine was reliable before she received an inoculation.
“I will not take his word for it,” Ms. Harris said of Mr. Trump on the CNN program “State of the Union.” (An earlier version of this article misidentified the program as “Inside Politics.”)
“He wants us to inject bleach,” she added, referring to remarks in April when the president incomprehensibly suggested a dangerous coronavirus treatment.
Ms. Harris’s remarks came after federal officials alerted state and major city public health agencies last week to prepare to distribute a vaccine to health care workers and other high-risk groups as soon as late October or early November. Given that no vaccine candidates have completed the kind of large-scale human trials that can prove efficacy and safety, that time frame has heightened concerns that the Trump administration is seeking to rush a vaccine rollout ahead of Election Day, Nov. 3.
For months, Ms. Harris and Joseph R. Biden Jr. have assailed Mr. Trump for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Ms Harris’s comments on Sunday questioning a potential vaccine, as scientists racing for a vaccine report constant pressure from a White House anxious for good news, are likely to further sow skepticism among Americans considering whether to get the vaccine when it becomes available.
With concern about the politicization of vaccines and treatments on the rise, five drug companies are preparing to issue a statement this week pledging to not release a vaccine unless it meets rigorous standards for effectiveness and safety. The companies — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi — are aiming to reassure the public that they will not seek premature approval under political pressure.
Ms. Harris on Sunday also said she and Mr. Biden would set a national “standard” for mask wearing, stopping short of endorsing a mandate.
“This is not about punishment. It’s not about Big Brother,” Ms. Harris said, adding that wearing a mask is a “sacrifice” in a time of crisis.
Her comments appeared to be a softening of the position she and Mr. Biden have previously staked out.
Last month, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris called for Americans to be required to wear masks, telling reporters after receiving a briefing from public health experts that every American should wear a mask while outside for at least the next three months and that all governors should mandate mask wearing.
Mr. Biden in July suggested that if he were president, he would require mask wearing in public, and, asked if he could use “federal leverage to mandate that,” said he could, and “would from an executive standpoint.”
Over the past few weeks, a Harvard scientist has made headlines for a bold idea to curb the spread of the virus: rolling out antigen tests, a decades-old underdog in testing technology, to tens of millions of Americans for near-daily, at-home use.
These tests are not very good at picking up low-level infections. But they are cheap and convenient, and return results in minutes. Real-time information, argued Dr. Michael Mina, the Harvard scientist, would be far better than the long delays clogging the testing pipeline.
But more than a dozen experts said that near-ubiquitous antigen testing, while intriguing in theory, may not be effective in practice. In addition to posing huge logistical hurdles, they said, the plan hinges on broad buy-in and compliance from people who have grown increasingly disillusioned with coronavirus testing. The aim also assumes that rapid tests can achieve their intended purpose.
“We are open to thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to handle this pandemic,” said Esther Babady, the director of the clinical microbiology service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But she said antigen tests that could work at home had yet to enter the market.
Also, no rigorous study has shown that fast and frequent testing is better than sensitive but slower in the real world, she said. “The data for that is what’s missing.”
What has been put forth about the approach is “largely aspirational, and we need to check it against reality,” said Dr. Alexander McAdam, the director of the infectious diseases diagnostic laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital and an author of a recent report on pandemic testing strategies in The Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
Most of the virus tests to date rely on a laboratory technique called PCR, long considered the gold standard because it can pick up even small amounts of genetic material from germs like the coronavirus.
But sputtering supply chains have compromised efforts to collect, ship and process samples for PCR tests, lengthening turnaround times. And the longer the wait, the less useful the result.
A university known for coronavirus research warns its scientists to look out for suspicious packages.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, public health authorities have faced harassment and death threats, and some have even been driven from office. Now a university deeply involved in studying the virus has warned hundreds of its researchers to be on the lookout for dangerous packages.
On Monday, the University of Washington, based in Seattle, sent an email to about 500 of its researchers telling them to be wary of suspicious packages and saying that virus researchers elsewhere had been targeted.
“We have received unfortunate reports from our contacts at the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that threatening mail has been sent to COVID-19 researchers on the east coast of the United States,” said the email, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News on Saturday.
The BuzzFeed News article quoted an F.B.I. spokesman saying that the bureau, “along with our local law enforcement partners, responded to a suspicious package sent to a few university researchers” and that “preliminary testing has indicated there is no threat to public safety in connection with this mailing.”
A University of Washington spokeswoman, Susan Gregg, provided a copy of the university’s email to The New York Times and said no suspicious packages had been reported so far.
The email warned researchers to be on the lookout for signs of suspicious mail, including an address with misspelled words, no return address, oily stains, discoloration or a strange odor. Any mail that raised concerns, the email said, should be left unopened and reported to the police by calling 911.
Research at the University of Washington includes 16 clinical studies related to the virus and a prominent but sometimes criticized forecasting model. The model estimated last week that Covid-19 would kill about 410,000 people in the United States by the end of the year, more than double the current death toll, drawing skepticism from experts who said predictions about the course of the pandemic months into the future are too uncertain to be useful.
The report of threats to researchers follows earlier signs of the risks faced by public health authorities and others involved in the pandemic response. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Mr. Trump’s virus task force and the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, received additional security in April after threats, and he said the security was also expanded to his daughters. Local and state health officials have also been targeted by those challenging public health measures.
For many Americans, Labor Day is a goodbye to summer before children go back to school and cold weather arrives. But public health experts worry that in the midst of a pandemic, this weekend could result in disaster in the fall.
After the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, cases of Covid-19 surged around the United States after people held family gatherings or congregated in large groups.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said he wanted people to enjoy Labor Day weekend, but urged precautions.
“You don’t want to tell people on a holiday weekend that even outdoors is bad — they will get completely discouraged,” Dr. Fauci said. “What we try to say is enjoy outdoors, but you can do it with safe spacing. You can be on a beach, and you don’t have to be falling all over each other. You can be six, seven, eight, nine or 10 feet apart. You can go on a hike. You can go on a run. You can go on a picnic with a few people. You don’t have to be in a crowd with 30, 40 or 50 people all breathing on each other.”
In terms of daily case counts, the United States is in worse shape going into Labor Day weekend than it was for Memorial Day weekend. The nation now averages about 40,000 new confirmed cases per day, up from about 22,000 per day ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
Colleges are struggling to keep students from breaking safety protocols, and many have seen significant outbreaks, as have many college towns. ABC News posted a video on Twitter showing crowds at a sports bar near the University of South Carolina. The university, which disciplined some of its Greek houses last week, has reported more than 1,735 cases since Aug. 1, including 1,461 active cases, according to its Covid-19 dashboard.
Dr. Fauci said that a spike in infections after Labor Day would make it far harder to control the virus’s spread in the fall, when cooler temperatures force more people indoors.
Public health experts said it was more challenging to persuade people to curtail their Labor Day weekend plans compared with past holiday weekends, because so many people are feeling pandemic fatigue after six months of restrictions, closures and separation.
“People are getting tired of taking these precautions and of having their lives upended,” said Eleanor J. Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. “They’re missing their friends and family, and everyone wishes things were back to normal. That’s totally understandable, but unfortunately we don’t get a say, really.”
Even so, there are signs that one pandemic precaution — mask wearing — has gained increasing acceptance over the summer. A Pew Research Center survey found that 85 percent of Americans said they wore masks all or most of the time when in stores or businesses, compared with 65 percent in June.
With fall fast approaching, symptoms alone will not be useful in distinguishing the coronavirus from similar-looking cases of the flu. That means routinely testing for both viruses will be crucial — even, perhaps, after some patients have died.
In New York, officials recently announced a ramp-up in post-mortem testing for the coronavirus as well as for the flu. Deaths linked to respiratory illnesses that were not confirmed before a person died are to be followed up with tests for both viruses within 48 hours, according to the new regulation.
“These regulations will ensure we have the most accurate death data possible as we continue to manage Covid-19 while preparing for flu season,” Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, said in a statement last week.
Deceased hospital patients and nursing home residents, as well as bodies in the care of funeral directors or medical examiners, will be among those targeted for follow-up testing.
These tests can help health officials track the prevalence of both types of infections, as well as indicate whether to warn close contacts of the deceased that they may need to quarantine.
“People need to know who around them was sick,” said Dr. Valerie Fitzhugh, a pathologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “If someone can’t be tested in life, why not test them soon after death?”
Putting regulations in place ahead of time will also encourage counties to bolster their testing readiness ahead of autumn and winter, when seasonal viruses like flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V., tend to thrive, said Dr. Mary Fowkes, a pathologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
In many parts of the United States, coronavirus cases are still ratcheting up every day — and will become more difficult to track when similar sicknesses muddle the picture.
With a number of schools in the United States opting for outdoor education over the potentially germier confines of their traditional indoor spaces, some outdoor-oriented companies are starting new product lines or repurposing existing ones to capitalize on how the pandemic has changed the education experience.
Demand for waterproof clothing and related gear “has been overwhelming,” said Sam Taylor, the chief executive of Oaki, a maker of a rain suit based in the Salt Lake City area. Mr. Taylor said demand for Oaki products has increased by 60 percent this year.
“There’s been a ton of research that’s shown how productive being outside is,” Mr. Taylor said. “There’s no reason a little moisture or rain should stop that. If anything, that should be a positive if you’ve got the right gear.”
Those searching for weatherproof supplies have also turned to Rite in the Rain, a century-old company based in Tacoma, Wash., that sells waterproof products including notebooks and printer paper.
Fifty percent of Rite in the Rain’s business comes from the government, mostly the military. But aside from “pretty decent business with college bookstores,” Mr. McDonald said, it hadn’t focused much on students until recently, with an increase in orders from elementary and high schools.
The coronavirus has thrived in Mexico’s dense capital, Mexico City, which is home to nine million people, half of them poor. But while more than 11,000 have died, analysts say it could have been worse without the interventions of Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.
Although she is one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s most trusted confidants, she has been careful to distance herself from him when possible when it comes to the virus. Mr. López Obrador minimized the pandemic early on, questioning the science behind face masks and doing little testing. Seeking to avert economic pain, he has barely restricted travel.
Under his watch, Mexico has the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll worldwide.
As of Saturday, Mexico had recorded 67,326 coronavirus deaths, according to a Times database. But the health ministry also said that the country had recorded 122,765 more deaths than usual from the time the pandemic started until August, suggesting that its true toll could be much higher than reported.
When Mr. López Obrador was still kissing babies at rallies and comparing the virus to the flu, Ms. Sheinbaum was planning for a long pandemic. She pushed an aggressive testing and contact tracing campaign, and set up testing kiosks where people get swabbed for free.
She also required that everyone in Mexico City use face coverings on public transit, and wore a mask each time she addressed the news media. And when doctors told her the N95 masks the federal government had imported from China were too narrow to fit Mexican faces, she had a local factory converted into a mask-making operation.
For Ms. Sheinbaum, a scientist with a Ph.D. in energy engineering, aligning too closely with the president would mean ignoring the practices she knows are in the best interest of public health. Stray too far, and she risks losing the support of a political kingmaker who is said to be considering her — the first woman and first Jewish person elected to lead the nation’s capital — as the party’s next presidential candidate.
So far, her strategy has been to follow the science while refusing to criticize the president.
Other coronavirus news from around the world:
India on Sunday reported 90,632 new coronavirus cases, a global record. The outbreak in India, which has had more than four million cases according to a Times database, has devastated an economy that until recently was booming.
Israel on Sunday announced overnight curfews on some 40 cities and towns hit hard by the virus, but backed away from imposing full lockdowns after an uproar by politically powerful religious politicians, The Associated Press reported. In July, under heavy public pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed a respected hospital director as the national “coronavirus project manager,” but when the new official began pushing for full lockdowns on areas with the worst outbreaks — among them ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities — leaders there strongly resisted. In an apparent compromise, Mr. Netanyahu opted for curfews. The measures will go in effect on Monday night.
Only a week after opening, most schools in a province in central Cuba are shutting their doors because of an outbreak. Seventy-five of Ciego de Ávila’s 90 schools will now return to televised teaching, The A.P. reported. The province has reported 30 new infections over the past 15 days. Students had returned to classrooms on Sept. 1 after a six-month break. Cuba as a whole has reported more than 4,300 infections and 100 deaths since March, with the biggest problem in Havana, which remains under a nighttime curfew.
Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, on Sunday extended its lockdown by two weeks until at least Sept. 28. The state of Victoria, the center of Australia’s worst outbreak, has been under lockdown since early August.
Thousands of police officers in riot gear filled the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, stifling a protest over the postponement of legislative elections because of the pandemic and over China’s imposition of a national security law that gives the authorities sweeping new powers to pursue critics.
The virus is spiking around college campuses as students return.
Within days of the University of Iowa’s reopening, students were complaining that they couldn’t get coronavirus tests or were bumping into people who were supposed to be in isolation. Undergraduates were jamming sidewalks and downtown bars, masks hanging below their chins, never mind the city’s mask mandate.
Now, Iowa City is a full-blown pandemic hot spot — one of about 100 college communities around the United States where infections have spiked in recent weeks as students have returned for the fall semester. Although the rate of infection has bent downward in the Northeast, where the virus first peaked in the United States, it remains high across many states in the Midwest and the South, and evidence suggests that students returning to big campuses are a major factor.
In a New York Times review of 203 U.S. counties where students make up at least 10 percent of the population, about half have experienced their worst weeks of the pandemic since Aug. 1. In about half of those, figures showed that the number of new infections is currently peaking.
Despite the surge in cases, there has been no uptick in deaths in college communities, data shows. This suggests that most of the infections are stemming from campuses, since young people who contract the virus are far less likely to die than older people.
However, leaders fear that young people who are infected will contribute to the spread of the virus throughout the community.
The surge in infections reported by county health departments comes as many college administrations are also disclosing clusters on their campuses, and taking disciplinary actions against students who flout rules. Northeastern University dismissed 11 students for violations last week, keeping their tuition.
And on Saturday, New York University said it had suspended 20 students since classes resumed. The virus’s potential spread beyond campus greens has deeply affected the workplaces, schools, governments and other institutions of local communities.
The result is often an exacerbation of traditional town-and-gown tensions as college towns have tried to balance economic dependence on universities with visceral public health fears.
Chance office encounters that used to allow for networking have been replaced by the formal geometry of the Zoom screen. And with fewer and less extensive connections than white colleagues to begin with, Black and Hispanic workers can find themselves more isolated than ever.
Assignments end up flowing to people who look more like top managers — a longstanding issue — while workers of color hesitate to raise their voices during online meetings, said Sara Prince, a partner at the consulting firm McKinsey.
“It’s a critical issue, and there is a real risk facing diversity and inclusion in the current environment,” Ms. Prince said. “When the leader is looking for someone to take up the mantle, most of them go to the comfort zone of people who remind them of themselves. This is exacerbated by the virtual office.”
It’s harder to tell which employees have shrunk back in their chairs or otherwise withdrawn in virtual meetings, said Evelyn Carter, managing director at Paradigm, a consulting firm, but moderators should pay attention to clues, like people with their cameras off, and try to draw those participants back into the discussion.
Some experts do see upsides for office workers who might have been marginalized.
“Most minorities are left out of informal networks and might not have been invited out for drinks or lunch,” said Tina Shah Paikeday, who oversees global diversity and inclusion advisory services at Russell Reynolds, a recruiting firm,
“The Zoom meeting is intentionally planned, and managers feel very intentional about inviting everyone.”
“It’s a great equalizer, and it creates opportunities for affinity group within large organizations,” she said. “It could end up being a good thing for minorities.”
Reporting was contributed by Kenneth Chang, Catie Edmondson, Robert Gebeloff, Shawn Hubler, Danielle Ivory, Jennifer Jett, Natalie Kitroeff, Sarah Kliff, Patrick J. Lyons, Tiffany May, Dera Menra Sijabat, Eric Nagourney, Richard C. Paddock, Tara Parker-Pope, Austin Ramzy, Nelson D. Schwartz, Mike Seely, Sarah Watson, Katherine J. Wu and Mihir Zaveri.