European Leaders Weigh New Lockdowns as Cases Rise

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California, as its infection rate declines, becomes the first state to top 700,000 known cases. California on Saturday became the first state to pass 700,000 known coronavirus cases, according to a New York Times database, even as its recent infection rate continued a steep decline. As recently as Aug. 16, […]

California on Saturday became the first state to pass 700,000 known coronavirus cases, according to a New York Times database, even as its recent infection rate continued a steep decline.

As recently as Aug. 16, the state’s seven-day average of new cases was at 9,323, and heading into Saturday, the average was 5,485. The state hit 600,000 cases on Aug. 13.

The mayor of Madrid has asked residents of the city’s southern neighborhoods to stay at home, and more than 2,000 members of its armed forces may soon be deployed to track local outbreaks, the authorities announced this week.

In Berlin, thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday to demand an end to government measures that they argue violate their constitutional rights. The rally was stopped by a police injunction because many were not respecting social distancing measures, The Associated Press reported.

Although Germany has been lauded for mostly minimizing the pandemic’s toll healthwise, many who have found themselves out of work are angry and afraid that they would not survive a second lockdown.

About 1,000 anti-mask protesters also gathered in the Swiss city of Zurich, and a similar number demonstrated in London at Trafalgar Square, according to The Associated Press.

While Mr. Macron has not ruled out another nationwide lockdown, the Tour de France, the prestigious cycling race, nonetheless departed from the southern city of Nice on Saturday, amid concerns that the peloton could carry infections as it rides across the country until Sept. 20. Teams will face possible exclusion if two of their riders test positive for the virus within a seven-day period during the race.

  • India reported 78,761 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, setting a global record for the third time in recent days. Until this past week, the U.S. had held the record for a single-day increase in cases, 75,682 on July 16, according to a Times database. India’s steep rise in infections — which officials say is partly explained by an increase in testing — comes as more state governments, desperate to stimulate an ailing economy, are loosening lockdown restrictions.

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand thanked residents of Auckland, the country’s largest city, as they prepared to come out of lockdown at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. But she encouraged residents to wear masks in public and remain vigilant. “Our system is only as good as our people, and our people are amazing,” she said. The city has been on lockdown since Aug. 12 as it tries to contain a cluster that has grown to 135 cases, including two reported on Sunday.

Colleges across the country are handing down suspensions and mandated quarantines as outbreaks at fraternity and sororities jeopardize fall reopening plans.

Health officials in Riley County, Kan., announced on Friday that 22 students affiliated with four sororities at Kansas State University had tested positive, and recommended that all members of the affected houses begin a two-week quarantine.

The most widely used diagnostic test for the virus, called a PCR test, provides a simple yes-no answer to the question of whether a patient is infected. But the results sent to doctors and patients do not include something else the tests reveal: an indication of the amount of virus in the patient’s body, which is a signal of how contagious the person may be.

That means many more people than necessary are being required to isolate and submit to contact tracing, and that the true picture of the state of the virus is skewed, according to reporting by Apoorva Mandavilli of The Times. The findings suggest that shifting to faster, less sensitive tests may help communities get a better handle on the virus.

“We’ve been using one type of data for everything, and that is just plus or minus — that’s all,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We’re using that for clinical diagnostics, for public health, for policy decision-making.”

The PCR test amplifies genetic matter from the virus in cycles. Large viral loads take fewer cycles to register, while even small amounts of virus — or inactive virus fragments — will register if enough cycles are run. (Dr. Mina thinks the cutoff in cycles should be no more than 30, to limit positives for samples with very little virus.)

The number of cycles at which the virus registers is called the cycle threshold, or C.T. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it was examining the use of C.T. measures “for policy decisions,” and that it would need to collaborate with the Food and Drug Administration and device manufacturers to ensure the measures “can be used properly and with assurance that we know what they mean.”

In three sets of testing data that did include C.T. values, compiled by officials in Massachusetts, New York and Nevada, up to 90 percent of positive samples barely carried any virus, a review by The Times found. If that rate applied nationwide, then only about 4,500 of the 45,604 new U.S. cases reported on Thursday would actually require isolation and contact tracing.

“It’s just kind of mind-blowing to me that people are not recording the C.T. values from all these tests — that they’re just returning a positive or a negative,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York.

People around the world who have lost loved ones to the virus have been unable to hold funerals or memorial services. But in Detroit, the 1,500 city residents who died of Covid-19 will be honored with a motorcade funeral procession on Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan said in a news release.

“This is how we begin the healing process,” Mayor Duggan said.

Bells will ring across the city as the families of those who died drive around Belle Isle, a park in the Detroit River, in 15 processions led by hearses. A local radio station, WRCJ-FM (90.9), will play gospel, classical and jazz music as the vehicles pass 900 photographs, each 4 by 4 feet, of the deceased that will be scattered around the park, according to the news release.

“These are the funeral processions that many of these folks didn’t get to have,” said Rochelle Riley, the director of arts and culture for Detroit and the coordinator of the memorial. “We need to see hearses. We need to see the mourning, so that everyone will understand that this is a pandemic that is stealing people away from us.”

Mourners will remain in their cars to ensure the event abides by guidelines against large gatherings and the park will be closed to other traffic for the day. The photos will stay in the park until Wednesday.

In addition to helping the families through their losses, Ms. Riley said she hoped the memorial would emphasize the threat of the virus to those who haven’t taken it seriously. The memorial can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, she said.

As schools closed and students stayed home this year to comply with lockdown orders, the owners of companies that bus millions of students to and from schools idled their fleets and braced for financial losses.

But as the pandemic has stretched on, many privately owned bus companies are facing an existential threat. With most summer school programs canceled and many schools planning to operate online for the fall, they fear they may not survive.

“We’ve been in business for over 60 years,” said Glenn Every, who runs a school bus company that works with schools in the Hudson Valley of New York. “But this may be the end of the line for us.”

About 60 percent of school buses are owned and operated by school districts; privately owned bus companies account for the remainder, carrying nearly 10 million children to school a year.

If they fail, experts say, many schools districts may find few alternatives. Parents and students, particularly those who live far from their school of choice, will most likely be left to improvise transportation options.

The tens of billions of dollars Congress has earmarked for the flagging transportation industry is focused on airlines, public transit and Amtrak. Privately operated buses were largely left out, industry experts said. Another $13.5 billion in aid was set aside for school districts, but lawmakers left it up to district administrators whether to use any of that money to pay private contractors — and some are not.

In school districts that are adopting remote learning, bus companies worry about getting any income at all. In places that are returning fully to in-person instruction or a hybrid model, companies project that cleaning costs will rise and operational outlays will skyrocket because of the need to run more buses to ensure students remain socially distanced.

In addition, bus drivers who were laid off have flocked to industries like trucking and package delivery, making it difficult for companies that need to drive students in the fall to recruit the staff members they now need.

“Once it falls apart,” said Kyle DeVivo, a bus advocate and an assistant vice president of DATTCO Inc., a bus company in Connecticut, “good luck putting it back together.”

Italy’s flare-up of Covid-19 cases is fueling a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, though the government says that migrants are just a small part of the problem.

Sicily’s president, Nello Musumeci, ordered all migrant centers on the island closed last weekend, saying it was impossible to prevent the spread of the illness in them. A court blocked the order, but his effort underlined the challenges Italy faces as right-wing politicians seek to rekindle a polarizing debate about immigration in a country hit hard by the pandemic, and now seeing its cases surge.

In the last two weeks, Italy’s seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled, from 476 on Aug. 15 to 1,192 on Friday, according to a New York Times database.

Franco Locatelli, the president of Italy’s Superior Health Council, a government advisory body, said migrants’ role in bringing the virus to Italy was “minimal.”

In the first half of August, around 25 percent of the country’s new infections arrived from abroad, according to Italy’s National Health Institute. Italians who had traveled accounted for more than half, and many other cases were among foreign residents returning to the country. Less than 5 percent were among new immigrants, the Health Ministry said.

About 11,700 migrants have reached Sicily since June, and 3 percent either tested positive upon arrival or during a quarantine period imposed at shelters.

Last weekend, a ship carrying hundreds of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, about 20 of whom had tested positive, was turned away by mayor after mayor in Sicily, before eventually docking in Augusta, in the southeast.

“Outlaw state,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League party and a former interior minister, said on Twitter. “An invasion of illegal migrants, a boom of infections, Sicily is collapsing.”

Pozzallo, in southern Sicily, has the highest rate of infections among arriving migrants: 73 tested positive out of about 200 quarantined there in one week this month. Roberto Ammatuna, the center-left mayor, has found himself trying to balance public fear with ethical obligations.

“Our citizens need to feel safe and protected, because we are here in the front lines of Europe,” he said in an interview.

“No one wants migrants who are sick with Covid,” he said, but “we can’t stop rescuing people at sea.”

Marilyn Cortez, a retired cafeteria worker in Houston who has no health insurance, spent much of July in the hospital with Covid-19. When she finally returned home, she received a $36,000 bill that compounded the stress of her illness.

Then someone from the hospital, Houston Methodist, called and told her not to worry — President Trump had paid it.

But then another bill arrived, for twice as much.

Ms. Cortez’s care is supposed to be covered under a program that Mr. Trump announced this spring as the pandemic was taking hold — a time when millions of people were losing their health insurance and the administration was doubling down on trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the law that had expanded coverage to more than 20 million people.

“This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment,” Mr. Trump said in April about the program, which is supposed to cover testing and treatment for uninsured people with Covid-19, using money from the federal stimulus package.

The program has drawn little attention since, but a review by The New York Times of payments made through it, as well as interviews with hospital executives, patients and health policy researchers who have examined the payments, suggests that the quickly concocted plan has not lived up to its promise.

It has caused confusion at participating hospitals, which in some cases have mistakenly billed patients who should be covered by it. Few patients seem to know the program exists, so they don’t question the charges. And some hospitals and other medical providers have chosen not to participate.

Large numbers of patients have also been disqualified because Covid-19 has to be the primary diagnosis for a case to be covered (unless the patient is pregnant).

“This is not the way you deal with uninsured people during a public health emergency,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University.

The most striking change might be in the Louis Armstrong and Arthur Ashe Stadiums, which feel cavernous and where struck balls sound different when the stands are empty.

Jamie Reynolds, ESPN’s vice president of production, said that without fans making noise between points, players might be able to hear the commentators.

“They can even listen to the analysis and change their tactics,” Reynolds said.

Yet in Ashe and Armstrong, players will hear recorded cheers from the moment they enter the stadium. And Lew Sherr, the U.S. Tennis Association’s chief revenue officer, promised that piped-in sounds of the game would be as accurate as possible.

If Serena Williams earns a break point with a winner in the first set during a second-round day session, for example, the computer system will seek a crowd reaction from a similar moment.

what we learned this week

As the Republican National Convention neared its end this week, President Trump vowed that a vaccine against the coronavirus would be produced before the end of the year “or maybe even sooner.”

The pledge is a tall order by any measure: Patients must be willing to take the vaccine, and there must be enough doses to be distributed.

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