• Mon. Nov 23rd, 2020

Tracking Covid-19 Live Updates: Global Coverage

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageA testing site in Hayward, Calif., in July.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The C.D.C. reverses its guidance on testing for people who were exposed to the virus and aren’t showing symptoms.

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.”

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KEY DATA OF THE DAY

Las Vegas casinos report nearly 1,000 employees tested positive ahead of bars reopening Sunday at midnight.

Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

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 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 the vast majority of the positive test results have come after the casinos reopened in June, but it is unclear when they began testing their employees and how many people are still actively fighting the virus.

As of Friday afternoon, the state has seen 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 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 and Elko counties, 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.

The statement from Wynn said that contact tracers had determined that 98 percent of its cases were contracted outside of work, though 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.

Lockdowns in Israel and virtual services in the U.S. transform celebrations for the Jewish high holidays.

Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

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.”

A pandemic surcharge on N.Y.C. restaurant checks? Some owners are wary.

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.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

A Chinese vaccine maker will try a two-dose regimen after concerns that one dose was ineffective.

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 of the coronavirus 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. The declaration was made in March because of the pandemic and empowers the national and local governments to use relief funds and set price controls for basic goods. 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.

U.S. officials seize a trove of counterfeit N95 respirator masks from Hong Kong.

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.

Sleeping jurors, muted lawyers, I.T. support for the plaintiff: Technical mishaps and other issues mar virtual trials.

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.

Actually, a Chinese virologist didn’t prove that the virus was created in a lab.

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.

Many housekeepers, abandoned by their employers, face ‘a Depression-level situation.’

Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

As the pandemic has devastated a wide variety of occupations in the United States, housekeeping has been among the hardest hit. Seventy-two percent of housekeepers reported that they had lost all of their clients by the first week of April, according to a survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

The fortunate had employers who continued to pay them. The unlucky called or texted their employers and heard nothing back. They weren’t laid off so much as ghosted, en masse.

Since July, hours have started picking up, though far short of pre-pandemic levels, and often for lower wages.

“We plateaued at about 40 percent employment in our surveys of members,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the alliance. She added that because many of the workers are undocumented immigrants, they have not received any kind of government relief.

“We’re talking about a full-blown humanitarian crisis, a Depression-level situation for this work force,” Ms. Poo said.

The ordeal of housekeepers is a study in the wildly unequal ways that the pandemic has inflicted suffering. The housekeepers’ pay dwindled, in many cases, because employers left for vacation homes or because those employers could work from home and didn’t want visitors.

Few housekeepers have much in the way of savings, let alone shares of stock, which means they are scrabbling for dollars as the wealthiest of their clients are prospering from the recent bull market.

In a dozen interviews with The Times, housekeepers in a handful of cities across the country described their feelings of desperation over the past six months. A few said the pain had been alleviated by acts of generosity, mostly advances for future work. Far more said they had been suspended, or perhaps fired, without so much as a conversation.

New York Roundup

A N.Y.C. bus driver told a rider to wear a mask. ‘Then he just knocked me out cold.’

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Anthony Reid, a 62-year-old public bus driver in New York City, is still recovering from a confrontation in July with a passenger who was not wearing a face covering. After other people aboard the bus complained, Mr. Reid reminded the passenger of the requirement to wear a mask on public transit.

The next thing Mr. Reid remembers is waking up in an ambulance, his left eye swollen shut and the taste of warm blood in his mouth. The mask-less passenger had attacked him from behind, the paramedics told said.

“It was a calm exchange with him, but then he just knocked me out cold,” Mr. Reid said.

As cities emerge from lockdowns and people return to public spaces, the new cultural wars over wearing a mask — or refusing to — have sparked confrontations in retail stores, parks and restaurants.

But in New York, 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.

Since mid-April, when the governor mandated that people wear masks on public transportation, there have been at least 177 instances of transit workers being harassed or assaulted by riders who refuse to wear face coverings or follow social-distancing protocols. Of those incidents, 95 percent occurred on buses, according to the transit agency. At least two people have been charged with assaulting transit workers in virus-related confrontations.

The frequent attacks have become so alarming that transit officials are now imposing $50 fines on riders who fail to wear masks on buses and subways.

“It’s very dangerous, very dangerous,’’ Mr. Reid said. “I was just trying to protect myself and protect the passengers. I paid a price for that.”

In other news from New York:

  • 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.

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.