• Tue. Nov 24th, 2020

Outbreaks at U.S. Colleges Force Sudden Changes and Send Students Scrambling: Covid-19 Live Updates

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageStudents at North Carolina State University on Tuesday. The university will move all undergraduate classes online starting next week.
Credit…Robert Willett/The News & Observer, via Associated Press

U.S. universities have been trying to prepare for months, but outbreaks are forcing last-minute changes.

As college students return to U.S. campuses, some schools are already hastily rewriting their plans for the fall. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michigan State and Drexel University will now hold most fall classes online, and Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh are among several that have abruptly suspended in-person classes for the coming weeks.

Some of these schools have already had sizable coronavirus outbreaks. The New York Times has identified more than 17,000 cases at more than 650 American colleges and universities over the months.

The last-minute changes left many students scrambling. Some had already moved to campus or signed leases for off-campus housing. Others said they would have rather returned to class when in-person instruction resumed.

“I think I probably would have taken a gap year, but just because everything was so last minute, it’s really hard to make plans,” said Karthik Jetty, an incoming freshman at Stanford, where plans to bring freshmen to campus were recently scuttled.

Universities have been preparing for this for months, but some factors are out of their control.

At Oberlin College, administrators postponed in-person classes because of virus testing delays. At Notre Dame, large outbreaks blamed on student gatherings drove the school to suspend in-person classes and restrict student gatherings. But a newspaper, run by students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s and Holy Cross, criticized the three institutions in a front-page editorial under the stark headline “Don’t make us write obituaries.”

And at Drexel, where coursework was moved online, officials said local school districts’ decisions not to hold classes would have made it difficult for university employees with children to come to campus.

“Despite all of our preparation,” said John Fry, Drexel’s president, “we have always understood that our approach would need to be continually assessed, taking into account new data and changing conditions.”

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Key Data of the Day

Cases surge in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

Europe’s initial strategy against the coronavirus — nearly universal, strictly enforced lockdowns — eventually worked. And in the two months since most European countries reopened, testing and tracing have largely kept new outbreaks in check. With basic rules on wearing masks and social distancing, life has been able to resume with some semblance of normality.

But in recent days France, Germany and Italy have each experienced their highest daily case counts since the spring, and Spain finds itself in the midst of a major outbreak. Government authorities and public health officials are warning that the continent is entering a new phase in the pandemic.

To be sure, the new cases in Europe are still quite low compared to parts of the United States, according to a New York Times database. For example, Florida has reported an average of 147 new cases a day per 100,000 people over the past week, whereas Italy is seeing an average of six new cases a day per 100,000 people. Germany is seeing nine new cases a day per every 100,000 and France is seeing 14.

But there are growing concerns that with the summer drawing to a close, the virus could find a new foothold as people move their lives indoors and the fall flu season begins.

The increase in cases in Europe, as in many other parts of the world, is being driven in part by young people: The proportion of people age 15 to 24 who are infected in Europe has risen from around 4.5 percent to 15 percent in the last five months, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Hans Kluge, its director for Europe, said on Thursday that he was “very concerned” that people under age 24 were regularly appearing among new cases.

“Low risk does not mean no risk,” he said. “No one is invincible, and if you do not die from Covid, it may stick to your body like a tornado with a long tail.”

South Korea threatens to detain people who obstruct virus-control efforts.

Credit…Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

South Korea threatened “​maximum” criminal penalties​ ​and arrests for people who impede the government’s disease-control efforts, as it reported 324 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, the highest daily total since early March.

A new outbreak ​spread​ing​ ​from Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, the capital city of 10 million people, ​has ​raised fear​s​ of mass transmission across ​South Korea. ​Once proud of its earlier successful fight against the virus​, South Korea has reported triple-digit daily increase​s in cases for eight consecutive days.

Although most of the new cases have been found in the Seoul metropolitan area, many other cities have also reported cases, indicating that the outbreak was spreading to the rest of the nation.

“We can say ​that ​this is the biggest crisis we’ve faced since the Covid-19 pandemic started in our country,” President Moon Jae-in said on Friday while urging the Seoul city government ​to become more aggressive​ in tracking down members of Sarang Jeil ​Church ​and their contacts for testing. “If​ disease-control efforts fail in Seoul, the entire ​disease-control system of the nation could collapse.”

“​We must exercise stern law enforcement, including ​detaining offenders on site or seeking arrest warrant​s​,” he said.

Health officials were also seeking to test all ​of the ​thousands of people who joined an anti-government rally in downtown Seoul last Saturday, ​after dozens of participants, including church members, tested positive.

The church has been one of the most vocal conservative critics of Mr. Moon​ and has often organized large anti-government protests in recent months.

Officials accused the church and its members of hampering their disease-control efforts by ​hiding a complete roster of congregants or refusing to be tested or running away from government-run quarantine facilities for patients.

The church denied the accusations, saying that it had been cooperating the best it could, and it instead accused the government of a “witch-hunt” to silence its vocal critics. During a telephone interview on Friday, the Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon​, the chief pastor of the church, who is under quarantine after testing positive, reiterated that the outbreak in his church was caused by a “​terrorist attack​ with the virus from the outside​.”

So far, 732 cases have been traced to the church.

Trump says his virus response will be a part of his speech at the convention.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump hinted on Friday that he plans to brag next week during his speech at the Republican convention about the way his administration has responded to the coronavirus.

During remarks to the Council for National Policy, a conservative group of supporters in Arlington, Va., Mr. Trump said he had done “a great job” dealing with the pandemic, and that he planned to talk about that during his acceptance speech.

“If you look at Florida, if you look at Arizona, you look at California those numbers are going down very rapidly,” he said. “Many, many states have very little problem. You know, you look at a map, now it’s largely, really in good shape. I mean, I’m going to talk about it in my speech on Thursday. We’ve done a great job.”

In fact, the president’s response to the pandemic has been widely condemned as weak, ineffective and motivated by politics instead of science. Cases numbers remain persistently high across the country and more than 174,000 people have died related to the virus.

Case numbers in Arizona and Florida, which surged to record levels early this summer, have indeed fallen in recent weeks. In California, a state that has been plagued by data reporting failures, case numbers have been relatively flat.

In recent days, death figures in Florida were near peak levels, but in Arizona, fatalities had decreased and in California, they had dropped slightly.

Medical experts have said Mr. Trump ignored and dismissed the virus until it was too late, then pushed too quickly to reopen the country, allowing it to surge in some areas again. The United States was slow to develop testing capacity and the president early on mocked the idea of wearing a mask to prevent its spread, an idea that doctors say is now a vital part of the response.

Democrats focused much of their attention on Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic during their four-day convention that culminated on Thursday with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. formally accepting the party’s nomination for president.

“The tragedy of where we are today is it didn’t have to be this bad,” Mr. Biden said in his speech Thursday night. “Just look around. It’s not this bad in Canada. Or Europe. Or Japan. Or almost anywhere else in the world. The president keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear. He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him, no miracle is coming.”

Mr. Trump shrugged the criticisms on Friday.

“We have not been recognized for what we’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve done a great job.”

This weekend’s Mets-Yankees series has been canceled as the Mets grapple with two infections.

Credit…Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

A Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets this weekend has been postponed because a Mets player and a staff member tested positive for the virus.

At first, only Friday’s game between the teams was called off. But Major League Baseball said Friday that the entire three-game series at Citi Field, the first meeting of the teams in the abbreviated baseball season, was being postponed “out of an abundance of caution and to allow for additional testing and contact tracing to be performed” within the Mets organization.

The Mets have not identified the people who tested positive but said that both people — and anyone found to have been in close contact with them — would remain in Miami. The Mets game there against the Marlins on Thursday was also postponed.

The Mets are the fourth team to have a player test positive since the truncated, 60-game season began on July 23. The St. Louis Cardinals and Marlins have had large-scale outbreaks (20 overall positive cases for the Marlins; 18 for the Cardinals), and the Cincinnati Reds had one positive test last Saturday.

It was not immediately clear when the Mets-Yankees series would be made up, but the two teams face off again next weekend with a three-game series scheduled at Yankee Stadium.

A troubled state in Myanmar adds the virus to its list of problems.

Credit…Nyunt Win/EPA, via Shutterstock

The virus has reached the war-torn Rakhine State in Myanmar, the site of brutal pogroms against Rohingya Muslims that United Nations officials have likened to genocide.

Now, the slender stretch of land in far western Myanmar is the beachhead for the virus, which had appeared to largely spare the Southeast Asian nation.

At least 18 people in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, have tested positive over the past few days, state officials said. The confirmed cases in the state include a surgeon and nurse at Sittwe General Hospital, bank employees, market vendors, a government official and an aid worker who had a history of visiting camps for internally displaced Rohingya in Rakhine, local health officials said.

With a decrepit health system, Myanmar, which has reported about 400 cases, is ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic. Rakhine is one of the least developed states in the union with an ongoing battlefield between an ethnic militia and the national army, a conflict that has caught impoverished civilians in the crossfire. While the country’s borders have officially been closed for months, save for exceptions like returnees who are quarantined, officials say that illegal immigration could be a viral vector.

Rakhine’s neighbor on the western border is Bangladesh, which has been hit hard by the virus and is currently seeing a rise in new daily cases, according to a Times database.

“There are business people doing illegal border crossings everyday,” said Dr. Soe Win Paing, the deputy director of the Rakhine State public health department. “It’s one of the possible ways to spread the virus here.”

On Friday, the Rakhine government imposed a two-month curfew, shutting schools and suspending flights and some buses. A stay-at-home notice has been issued.


Hong Kong to roll out testing services and makeshift hospitals, courtesy of Beijing.

Credit…Miguel Candela/EPA, via Shutterstock

Hong Kong will roll out voluntary coronavirus tests for all citizens over a period of two weeks starting on Sep. 1, Carrie Lam, the city’s pro-Beijing leader, said on Friday, crediting the Chinese government for making the large-scale testing possible.

The mainland authorities will provide staff and services to testing laboratories, Mrs. Lam said. The free, one-time testing program has raised privacy concerns among Hong Kong’s activists and residents, who fear it could lead to the harvesting of DNA samples. The local government, grappling with public distrust after a year of protests, has denied the accusation.

“Our objective is to encourage as many Hong Kong people to come forward to receive this free-of-charge testing, so that they can be assured of their own situation and they can help us and help society to recover as soon as possible,” Mrs. Lam said, calling it a “civic responsibility of every Hong Kong citizen.”

One-hundred and fifty swabbing stations will be set up across Hong Kong for the citywide program, the South China Morning Post reported.

Other projects facilitated by the Chinese government include converting parts of a major exhibition center near Hong Kong’s airport into makeshift health facilities, Mrs. Lam said. A temporary hospital will also be built over the next four months.

Hong Kong is currently battling its most severe wave of infections yet, although the daily tally has gradually eased after a peak in July, with 27 new cases reported on Friday.

In other developments around the world:

  • Papua New Guinea barred 48 Chinese mine workers who received an experimental vaccine from entering the country over concerns that they could pose a risk to residents of the remote Pacific island nation, which has so far been only lightly touched by the virus. The workers were headed to a Chinese-run mine, Ramu Nickel. China began giving the unproven vaccine to select groups of workers last month.

  • The Colombian government said that, beginning on Friday, the authorities in Venezuela would suspend re-entry for citizens attempting to return via the Simón Bolívar Bridge, a major crossing point along the two countries’ porous border. Venezuelans who have streamed home in recent months after losing jobs in Colombia and elsewhere have been held by their government in makeshift containment centers, as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s effort to deploy his repressive security apparatus against the virus.

  • Ireland’s agriculture minister, Dara Calleary, resigned on Friday after he broke public health guidelines by attending a gathering of more of 80 people earlier this week. Ireland has limited indoor gatherings to no more than 50 people since June, and the government on Tuesday announced even tighter restrictions.

  • British authorities extended a ban on evictions originally put in place in March for another four weeks in England and Wales. Without the ban, anyone in arrears for more than eight weeks could be automatically evicted, which according to research by the charity Shelter would threaten nearly 230,000 adult renters. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the ban has been extended to March.

  • The World Health Organization said the fight against a growing ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being hampered by the pull of resources toward the coronavirus pandemic, which has already claimed 248 lives and infected 9,802 others, according to a New York Times database. Ebola cases in the country have now reached 100, and 43 people have died.

U.S. Roundup

The pandemic has pushed the U.S. across a line that debt hawks have warned of for decades.

Economists and deficit hawks have warned for decades that the United States was borrowing too much money. The federal debt was ballooning so fast, they said, that economic ruin was inevitable: Interest rates would skyrocket, taxes would rise and inflation would probably run wild.

The death spiral could be triggered once the debt surpassed the size of the U.S. economy — a turning point that was probably still years in the future.

It actually happened much sooner: sometime before the end of June.

The pandemic, and the economic collapse that followed, unleashed a historic run of government borrowing: trillions of dollars for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance expansions and loans to prop up small businesses and to keep big companies afloat.

But the economy hasn’t drowned in the flood of red ink — and there’s a growing sense that the country could take on even more without any serious consequences.

“At this stage, I think, nobody is very worried about debt,” said Olivier Blanchard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “It’s clear that we can probably go where we are going, which is debt ratios above 100 percent in many countries. And that’s not the end of the world.”

Since the 2008 financial crisis, traditional thinking about borrowing by governments — at least those that control their own currencies — has weakened as central banks in major developed markets became enormous buyers in government bond markets.

In other news around the country:

  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is defending his first three months of overseeing the Postal Service before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Friday, and denouncing what he described as a “false narrative” that had emerged about his tenure. Mr. DeJoy contends that a series of cost-cutting measures intended to help improve efficiency have been misconstrued “into accusations that we are degrading the service provided to election mail.”

  • The Tony Awards ceremony will be online this year, theater officials said on Friday — a decision that was months in the making after the season was cut short in March because of the virus. The suite of eligible awardees have not yet been finalized. Before pandemic interruptions, the ceremony was initially scheduled for June 7 at Radio City Music Hall.

Hundreds of doctors in Kenya go on strike over their pay and protective gear.

Credit…Brian Ongoro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

More than 300 doctors in Nairobi went on strike on Friday over what they say are delayed salaries and substandard personal protective equipment, precipitating a health crisis in the Kenyan city that is hardest hit by the pandemic.

Besides persistent delays in the payment of salaries, doctors say they have been supplied with poor-quality protective gear that has led many of them to become infected in the course of caring for the sick. Many say they have gone weeks without medical insurance since a national fund stopped paying for the expense at the end of June, leaving doctors to foot the bill for their own care. Those who become infected are not given access to isolation facilities, they say.

The doctors, who work in Nairobi’s public health system, have now joined thousands of other medical workers nationwide who have gone on strike in recent weeks over what they say are dangerous and exhausting working conditions.

Across Kenya, more than 700 health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 10 have died, according to the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.

New cases of the virus have surged in recent weeks as the country has lifted a ban on international flights and slowly reopened the economy. As of Friday morning, Kenya had recorded at least 31,000 cases and 516 deaths, according to a New York Times database, with the area around Nairobi counting for more than half of the cases.

The strike began on Friday after talks between the authorities in Nairobi and the doctors collapsed the day before.

“Doctors are not martyrs,” said Thuranira Kaugiria, the secretary general of the Nairobi branch of the doctor’s union. “Doctors are not children of a lesser God.”

Dr. Kaugiria said that he had been threatened for calling for the strike and had moved his children out of his home as a precaution.

“We deserve to be treated better, and we deserve to be given what is rightfully ours,” he said.

Older New Yorkers sweat it out, waiting for promised air-conditioners during the pandemic.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

New York City would give away free air-conditioners this summer to low-income older people who are stuck indoors, 74,000 by the end of July, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. But workers had installed about 55,800 units by mid-August — about three-fourths of the city’s goal.

There were problems with some installations. Community groups say the program is disorganized and did not reach everyone it could. One center gave up waiting and bought dozens of air-conditioners on its own. The difficulty in getting a free air-conditioner left many seniors frustrated and confused by what they described as a bureaucratic, inefficient process.

Linda Rios, who is in her 80s and lives at the Stephen Wise Towers on the Upper West Side, got an air-conditioner after “months of pushing.” But when the workers arrived, they were too forceful and broke her window, she said.

New York City has more than 1 million residents who are 65 and older — about 14 percent of the city’s population. About 11 percent of white people over 65 live below the poverty line, compared with 28 percent of Hispanic seniors, 23 percent of Asian seniors and 18 percent of Black seniors, according to a report by the city comptroller.

During the pandemic, many older people have been afraid to leave their apartments. Senior centers, where residents could gather to cool off and play bingo or mahjong, closed in March. In the United States, heat kills older people more than any other extreme weather event, including hurricanes, and the problem is part of an ignominious national pattern: Black people and Latinos are far more likely to live in the hottest parts of American cities.

The mayor’s administration has faced criticism over its ability to roll out other key initiatives, including meal deliveries, virus testing and a contact-tracing program.

But in some ways, the air-conditioner program could be viewed as a success: The city mobilized relatively quickly to help improve the lives of some of its neediest residents. The mayor’s office defended the program and said another 11,600 units would be installed in the coming weeks.

For Americans, a second passport has turned into a status symbol.

Credit…Chiara Vercesi

As the pandemic has ravaged the United States, some Americans are finding that a second citizenship or permanent residency has a renewed appeal.

Some people see it as a kind of insurance policy, a way to ensure freedom of movement in the future. Newfound free time at home has enabled others to engage in a laborious application process they have had on their to-do lists for years.

The practice of establishing a second nationality has risen in the past few months.

“I see how European people have really stepped up to take a collective problem and work together toward achieving the goal, i.e. of getting rid of the virus,” said Susan Periharos, who began her application process for Greek citizenship about four weeks ago. “The pandemic pretty much clinched it for me.”

Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Hannah Beech, Alan Blinder, Alexander Burns, Emily Cochrane, Choe Sang-Hun, Abdi Latif Dahir, Nicholas Fandos, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Hailey Fuchs, Katie Glueck, Mike Ives, Tyler Kepner, Gwen Knapp, Alex Lemonides, Apoorva Mandavilli, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Matt Phillips, Valeriya Safronova, Anna Schaverien, Somini Sengupta, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, James Wagner, Marina Varenikova and Elaine Yu.