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The C.D.C. director, facing criticism, now says testing ‘may be considered’ for anyone exposed to the virus.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has scaled back the agency’s recommendation advising some people not to get tested after exposure to the novel coronavirus, now saying “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients.”
The statement by Dr. Robert R. Redfield was issued to some news outlets late Wednesday, and more broadly Thursday morning, after a storm of criticism over the new C.D.C. guidelines — involving potentially asymptomatic people — which were the product of the White House Coronavirus task force and not the C.D.C.’s own scientists. Dr. Redfield made the statement in an effort to clarify the new policy, an official said. However, the guidelines issued earlier this week remained on the C.D.C.’s website as of Thursday morning, and it appears unlikely that the agency will change them.
“Testing is meant to drive actions and achieve specific public health objectives,” Dr. Redfield wrote. “Everyone who needs a Covid-19 test, can get a test. Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.”
The clarification is unusual. Public health experts say clear, consistent communications are essential to fighting an infectious disease outbreak, and Dr. Redfield’s comments may further confuse things.
In guidelines posted on Monday, the agency said close contacts of Covid-19 patients “do not necessarily need a test” unless they are vulnerable or their doctor or a state or local public heath official recommended it. On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Admiral Brett M. Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing czar, said the new policy mirrored the existing recommendation for health care and other frontline workers, and the task force had simply decided to extend it to the general population.
But the guidance was met with protest from public health experts, who said the nation needs more testing, not less, and that it made no sense to advise anyone exposed not to get a test, particularly because the virus is transmitted by asymptomatic people.
The chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical College, Dr. Ross McKinney Jr., slammed it as “irresponsible,” saying the guidelines released Monday “go against the best interests of the American people and are a step backward in fighting the pandemic.”
Mr. Trump has suggested that the nation should do less testing, arguing that administering more tests was driving up case numbers and making the United States look bad. But experts say the true measure of the pandemic is not case numbers but test positivity rates — the percentage of tests coming back positive.
In an interview on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a member of the task force and the government’s top infectious disease expert, said he was concerned that it could be misinterpreted. Dr. Fauci had signed off on an early iteration of the rule but was undergoing surgery for removal of a polyp on his vocal cord when it was finalized last Thursday.
In the statement, Dr. Redfield said the agency is “placing an emphasis on testing individuals with symptomatic illness, individuals with a significant exposure, vulnerable populations including nursing homes or long term care facilities, critical infrastructure workers, health care workers and first responders, or those individuals who may be asymptomatic when prioritized by medical and public health officials.”
Dr. Redfield also said that anyone — even people who test negative — exposed to someone who is or may be infected should “strictly adhere” to public health guidelines, like social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding crowded indoor spaces and frequently washing their hands.
Pelosi and Meadows are set to talk Thursday for the first time since stimulus discussions stalled.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, are set to speak on Thursday afternoon for the first time since talks on an economic recovery package collapsed earlier this month, holding out the possibility of jump-starting negotiations on another round of pandemic stimulus.
Since the discussions broke down weeks ago, top Democrats and administration officials have barely spoken, even as the toll of the virus continued to mount on families, small businesses and schools. Mr. Meadows appeared at the Capitol unannounced last weekend and said he had sought, without success, to meet with Ms. Pelosi, apparently trying to portray the speaker as unwilling to speak with him.
The two were set to speak by phone at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the plans. But Ms. Pelosi downplayed the significance of the phone call, telling reporters at her weekly news conference that she considered Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to be the lead negotiator.
“We consider — whatever his name is, what’s his name? — Meadows there staffing Mr. Mnuchin,” she said. “If they are willing to meet us in the middle, then we can sit down and talk. So this is: you called me. I’m returning your call.”
After weeks of fruitless negotiations, Mr. Trump took a series of executive actions he said would deliver relief across the country, though officials acknowledged that the moves were small in scope and impact without new funds allocated by lawmakers. His plan to use a FEMA disaster fund to pay for aid to laid-off workers is also facing fresh scrutiny as Hurricane Laura bears down on the Gulf Coast with another storm in tow, raising the possibility that the money will be needed for a major recovery effort.
House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion relief measure in May, but the Republican-led Senate refused to consider it, instead pressing a $1 trillion plan that would slash jobless aid and omit money for state and local governments whose budgets have been devastated amid the pandemic. With Senate Republicans wary of embracing more federal spending and the White House proposing a much narrower package, Democrats scaled back their request this month, asking Mr. Trump’s team to accept a $2 trillion plan — a notion they also rejected.
“We’re not budging,” Ms. Pelosi said. She added, “We need a flood of money for this — we have a pandemic. They’re coming in with an eyedropper.”
With the impasse persisting into the annual August recess, many lawmakers and aides have concluded that any additional pandemic relief would have be tied to a stopgap spending bill to fund the entire federal government. That measure must pass by the end of September to avert a shutdown.
Education systems are failing to reach many children, resulting in a ‘global education emergency.’
Over the past six months, about 1.5 billion children around the world have been told to stay home from school to help minimize transmission of the coronavirus. More than 30 percent of these students — around 463 million — were unable to gain access to remote learning opportunities when their schools closed, according to a report on Wednesday by Unicef, the United Nations agency for children.
“The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency,” Henrietta Fore, the executive director of Unicef, said in a statement. “The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come.”
Schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa have been the most affected, the report said, as education systems there have failed to reach about half of all students through television, radio, internet or other forms of remote learning. Many children in the region have gone without classes of any kind since March, according to a separate report published Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.
In part to address this unequal access, education officials in Kenya said last month that they were canceling the academic year and making students repeat it.
Forty percent of students in the Middle East and North Africa, 38 percent in South Asia and 34 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have also been unable to learn remotely, according to the Unicef report, which said children in rural areas had been disproportionately affected.
In general, students from higher-income households with more-educated parents seem to be faring better at studying at home, researchers around the world have found. This has reinforced concerns that school closures may be yet another way that longstanding inequalities will be exacerbated by the pandemic.
As Hurricane Laura slams the U.S., evacuation shelters adjust for the virus.
With winds of 150 miles per hour, Laura was among the strongest storms to ever hit the United States, according to data compiled by Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University who studies hurricanes. Forecasters have also warned of an “unsurvivable” storm surge that could push as far as 40 miles inland.
The hurricane was preceded by tough decisions about fleeing and an urgent push to get people out of harm’s way, with more than 500,000 residents in Louisiana and Texas urged to leave their homes.
Although large shelters have been set up throughout the hurricane zone, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas had encouraged evacuees to consider booking rooms in hotels and motels instead of using shelters, as a safer way to isolate themselves from others who might be infected with the coronavirus.
Officials said buses used for evacuations would carry fewer people than in the past, to let riders stay a safe distance from one another. Planners were bringing in more buses than in previous disasters, to make up for having fewer people on each bus.
Traditional shelters like gymnasiums and convention centers that have hosted hundreds of evacuees in past disasters would be set up to provide “layers of separation” between the occupants, Mr. Abbott said. The shelters and buses will be supplied with hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment like face masks, and state officials plan to dispatch testing teams to the larger shelters.
“The state and local governments are fully aware that they are dealing with a pandemic while they are responding to Hurricane Laura,” the governor said.
Weekly unemployment claims in the U.S. again exceed one million.
Just over one million Americans filed new claims for state jobless benefits last week, the latest sign that the economy is losing momentum just as federal aid to the unemployed has been pulled away.
Weekly claims briefly dipped below the one million mark earlier this month, offering a glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy job market. But filings jumped back above one million the following week, and stayed there last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Another 608,000 people filed for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers aid to independent contractors, self-employed workers and others not covered by regular state programs. That number, unlike the figures for state claims, is not seasonally adjusted.
Other recent indicators also suggest that the recovery is faltering. Job growth slowed in July, and real-time data from private-sector sources suggests that hiring has slumped further in August. On Tuesday, American Airlines said it would furlough 19,000 workers on Oct. 1, the latest in a string of such announcements from major corporations.
“It is worrying because it does signal that these large companies are pessimistic about the state of the recovery and don’t think that we are going to be returning to normal anytime soon,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the career site Glassdoor.
Unemployment filings have fallen sharply since early April, when 6.6 million applied for benefits in a single week. But even after that decline, weekly filings far exceed any previous period. Roughly 30 million Americans are receiving benefits under various state and federal programs.
The continued high rate of job losses comes as government support for the unemployed is waning. The $600-a-week federal supplement to state unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, and efforts to replace it have stalled in Congress. President Trump announced this month that he was using his executive authority to give jobless workers an additional $300 or $400 a week, but few states have begun paying out the new benefit, and the $44 billion allocated to the program is expected to last only a few weeks.
Economists warn that the loss of federal support could act as a brake on the recovery. Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist for the forecasting firm Oxford Economics, estimated that the lapse in extra unemployment benefits would reduce household income by $45 billion in August. That could lead to a drop in consumer spending and further layoffs, she said.
In other U.S. news:
The Justice Department has asked New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania for information about steps their governors — all Democrats — took in response to the pandemic to determine whether they may have contributed to the spread of the disease in nursing homes by allowing people admission without adequate testing.
Vice President Mike Pence and other speakers on the third night of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday sought to rewrite the history of how President Trump has handled the pandemic. Read more about the third night of the event and a fact check of the speakers.
College football prepares to begin a season shaped by virus precautions.
At Texas A&M, the football stadium that normally holds about 110,000 people may allow fewer than 28,000 to start this season. Alabama and Auburn have banned tailgating at their games, and so has Mississippi’s governor. Marching bands are forbidden on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s fields.
What unfolds in and around America’s stadiums could help determine whether the college football teams still planning to play in 2020 can pull off seasons. The successes and failures could also have broad implications for how other ordinarily large events, like concerts and presidential inauguration festivities, are staged in the months and years ahead.
On-field precautions ordered by college football officials include larger team areas, smaller delegations for coin tosses and mask mandates for those on the sidelines.
A year after Division I football attendance exceeded 42 million, hosting fans is a very different matter. Some universities, like Duke and West Virginia, have said they will not allow fans at first.
Not every stadium will be open, fans or not. The three largest venues in college football — Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Beaver Stadium at Penn State and Ohio Stadium in Columbus — will all be silent this fall after the Big Ten postponed its season. The homes of Pac-12 teams, like the Rose Bowl, where U.C.L.A. plays its home games, and Autzen Stadium at Oregon, will also be empty.
But of the 30 teams that recorded the highest cumulative home attendance last season, 21 are planning to play a fall season, and some are still finalizing plans for spectators.
Gaza, which had reported no community transmission since the start of the pandemic, sees a local outbreak.
A three-day extension of a lockdown in the Gaza Strip went into effect on Thursday after the densely populated territory — which had not recorded a single case of community transmission of the virus before this week — saw two virus-related deaths since Monday, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
The ministry on Thursday reported a total of 40 new cases of community transmission. Yousef Abu al-Rish, the deputy health minister, told a news conference in Gaza City on Wednesday that he expected the coming days would see “more and more” infections, but emphasized that there was still an opportunity to contain the pandemic.
Until Monday, authorities had found infections only at quarantine facilities, where all returning travelers were required to isolate for three weeks and pass two tests before being permitted to leave.
In other developments around the world:
In Britain, the government said it would start to pay people in low-income areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases who have to quarantine and cannot work from home. Payments of up to 182 pounds (about $240) will be made to people who have tested positive for Covid-19 as well as to their contacts if they meet certain criteria. A trial will start on Tuesday.
In Germany, demonstrations by far-right groups against virus restrictions scheduled for the weekend in Berlin were canceled after city authorities said that they would likely break social-distancing rules. Critics said a ban could energize those who already think the state is overreaching on virus rules, and ultimately lead to more dangerous illegal demonstrations.
Doctors in the public hospitals in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, have ended their weeklong strike over shoddy protective gear, lack of insurance coverage and delayed salaries. The return to work announcement came after the Nairobi county government and the doctors’ union struck a deal that saw the resolution of most of the health workers’ concerns.
South Korea reported 441 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily total since early March, as the government criticized what it called two great obstacles in fighting the virus: doctors on strike and churches obstructing epidemiological efforts. The country has reported three-digit daily jumps in infections since Aug. 14. Also on Thursday, South Korea’s central bank cut its economic growth outlook, forecasting a 1.3 percent contraction in 2020. That would be its worst performance since after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.
Face masks will be required in all public places in Paris starting Friday morning, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced. The country has seen a surge in cases, and Mr. Castex warned against complacency, adding that the local authorities could tighten restrictions if needed.
The Times’s infectious diseases reporter describes his job: ‘I no longer feel like a lone crazy man.’
Donald McNeil Jr. has been a reporter at The New York Times since 1976 and has covered global health since the 1990s, when he was a correspondent in South Africa and it was becoming the world’s biggest H.I.V. hot spot.
He discussed what it has been like to cover the coronavirus in a piece for Times Insider:
I’ve covered pretty much every pandemic or potential pandemic: AIDS, Ebola, SARS, MERS, H5N1 bird flu, H1N1 swine flu, Zika, dengue. And diseases like polio, tuberculosis, malaria, Guinea worm, yellow fever and measles that were once pandemics but are now confined mostly to poor countries.
Now I am trying to envision what the novel coronavirus will look like in the months or years ahead, based on interviews with experts. They might be doctors who fought other diseases, historians who studied earlier pandemics, or people with insights into human behavior under stress.
There aren’t a lot of rules on how to do this.
I became really worried on the night of Jan. 30, when China’s lab-confirmed case count went to 10,000 from 500 in a week, with 200 dead. It took time to convince others. I came into the office the next day raving that this was The Big One.
These days, I no longer feel like a lone crazy man whistling in the wind. Everyone — even President Trump — believes in The Big One. And everyone at The New York Times is covering it.
Now the story is so complex that keeping up with it is nearly impossible. I feel as if I conduct interviews, read studies, and watch TV day and night, just trying to follow shutdowns, school openings, vaccines, treatments, mask battles and what’s happening in Sweden, Hong Kong and New Zealand. You can’t deduce what might happen here without knowing what has worked elsewhere and calculating whether we can do the same thing — or if we’re just too stubborn and too polarized.
Prediction is an imperfect art. Viruses mutate, and people do the unexpected. But we’re trying.
Reporting was contributed by Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Chelsea Brasted, Aurelien Breeden, Alexander Burns, Ben Casselman, Emily Cochrane, Choe Sang-Hun, Nick Cumming-Bruce, Abdi Latif Dahir, Reid J. Epstein, Alex Marshall, Jonathan Martin, Jesse McKinley, Sarah Mervosh, Claire Moses, Heather Murphy, Richard C. Paddock, Adam Rasgon, Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas, Amanda Rosa, Dana Rubinstein, Christopher F. Schuetze, Dera Menra Sijabat, Jenna Smialek, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan and Carl Zimmer.