Categories
Health

Live Coronavirus Updates: New Caseload Records Across the U.S.


Outlook worsens in parts of the U.S. as July begins with a crush of cases.

July in America is off to a miserable start.

Over the month’s first five days, the United States reported its three largest daily case totals. Fourteen states recorded single-day highs. In all, more than 250,000 new cases were announced nationwide, the equivalent of every person in Reno catching the virus in less than a week.

“The situation is that we are experiencing rampant community spread,” said Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, Texas, where more than 2,000 new cases were announced over the weekend. Mr. Jenkins pleaded with residents to “move from selfishness to sacrifice” and wear a mask in public.

Across much of the country, the outlook was worsening quickly.

On Sunday, Texas and Florida both surpassed 200,000 total cases. In Mississippi, where nearly every county has reported an uptick in cases, the speaker of the State House of Representatives was among several lawmakers to test positive. And in Starr County, Texas, along the Mexican border, cases were being identified by the hundreds and hospitals were running out of room.

“The local and valley hospitals are at full capacity and have no more beds available,” Eloy Vera, the top official in Starr County, said in a Facebook post. “I urge all of our residents to please shelter-in-place, wear face coverings, practice social distancing and AVOID GATHERINGS.”

Meanwhile, new case clusters emerged as people resumed their pre-pandemic routines. At least 16 infections were linked to a church in San Antonio. Ninety-five people tested positive at a housing facility for farmworkers in Oxnard, Calif. In Missouri, a summer camp shut down after more than 40 people, including campers and employees, tested positive.

“These cases reside in 10 states and multiple counties in Missouri,” the Stone County, Mo., Health Department said about the camp cluster. “Many of these cases returned to their place of residence and then tested positive.”

Federal workers in the U.S. are returning to their offices.

As virus cases increase around the United States, some of the federal government’s 2.1 million employees are heading back to their offices in one of the few regions where confirmed infections continue to decline: the nation’s capital.

At the Energy Department’s headquarters, 20 percent of employees — possibly as many as 600 — have been authorized to return. The Interior Department said in a statement last month that it anticipated about 1,000 workers to soon return daily to its main office near the White House. The Defense Department has authorized up to 80 percent of its work force to return to office spaces, which could result in up to 18,000 employees inside the Pentagon, according to a spokeswoman. Many of them are already there.

“Federal employees have been working throughout the entire pandemic,” said Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers in the District of Columbia. “To move them to a work site so the administration can say they reopened the government is irresponsible.”

Governments in the capital region are less than enthusiastic about a rush back. Cases in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are now holding steady, just days after cases in Washington had been declining.

A panel of public health experts chosen to inform Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s reopening strategy in Washington recommended initially capping office buildings at 25 percent capacity, a threshold some federal agencies will soon exceed. In April, Ms. Bowser, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia signed a letter urging the Trump administration to continue encouraging telework for the federal work force as much as possible.

Many private employers in the region have closed their offices to nonessential workers until at least Labor Day, but federal back-to-work orders are not changing. And that has local epidemiologists worried.

“You don’t want to negate all of the hard work that the D.C., Maryland, Virginia regions have done to reduce the number of cases of coronavirus in our region, by then returning everyone to work and potentially reversing the trends,” said Amanda Castel, an epidemiology professor at George Washington University.

Early numbers found that Black and Latino people were being harmed by the coronavirus at higher rates, but new federal data — made available after The New York Times sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — reveals a clearer and more complete picture: Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected across the United States, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups.

Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, according to the new data, which provides detailed characteristics of 640,000 infections detected in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties. And Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.

The disparities persist across state lines and regions. They exist in rural towns on the Great Plains, in suburban counties, like Fairfax County, Va., and in many of the country’s biggest cities.

“Systemic racism doesn’t just evidence itself in the criminal justice system,” said Quinton Lucas, the Black mayor of Kansas City, Mo. In Missouri, 40 percent of those infected are Black or Latino even though those groups make up just 16 percent of the state’s population.

Mr. Lucas said, “It’s something that we’re seeing taking lives in not just urban America, but rural America, and all types of parts where, frankly, people deserve an equal opportunity to live — to get health care, to get testing, to get tracing.”

The Louvre, the world’s most-visited museum, reopened on Monday, ending a 16-week coronavirus shutdown that resulted in a loss of more than 40 million euros, or about $45 million, in ticket sales.

Speaking in front of the large glass pyramid of the Paris museum, its director, Jean-Luc Martinez, said the Louvre was losing about 80 percent of its visitors — most of whom come from outside France — because of international flight restrictions.

On Monday, about 7,000 visitors had booked tickets, compared with the 30,000 daily visitors who toured the Louvre before the pandemic.

“This drop in visitor numbers will last a few years,” Mr. Martinez said, adding that he was confident about the museum’s finances thanks to the large subsidy that it receives from the French government.

The museum has added a string of health rules to ensure the safety of visitors and staff. A third of its galleries — those where social distancing is difficult to respect — remain closed, while visitors are expected to follow arrows that will guide them through the galleries to avoid bottlenecks.

Around 10:30 a.m. Monday, the Salle des États, the room where the Mona Lisa hangs, held only about a hundred people, far from the crowds that usually flock to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

Mr. Martinez said that the museum would try to make the most of this peculiar period and attract French museumgoers who are sometimes intimidated by the Louvre.

Standing in front of “Liberty Leading the People,” a painting by Eugène Delacroix, one visitor, Antonio Cacciatore, said he had long planned to come back on the first day of reopening.

“To be able to look at a painting like this for so long in peace and quiet — it’s rare,” Mr. Cacciatore said.

In other news from around the world:

  • In an open letter to be published this week, 239 scientists in 32 countries are urging the World Health Organization to recognize that the virus can infect people through tiny aerosolized particles, not just larger respiratory droplets expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes.

  • About 270,000 people in Spain have re-entered lockdown, after the country officially ended its state of emergency on June 21. Emergency measures went into effect over the weekend in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, as well as in the northeastern region of Catalonia, around the city of Lleida. The Catalan authorities anticipated that the Lleida lockdown would last two weeks, while officials in Galicia said theirs would be limited to five days, which would also allow residents to vote on Sunday in regional elections.

  • Officials in India postponed the reopening of the Taj Mahal this week. The number of cases in the country started to rapidly rise several weeks ago after the government began lifting a lockdown imposed in March, and some cities have already reinstated tough rules to keep their caseloads down. India has reported about 700,000 confirmed infections and nearly 20,000 deaths as of Monday.

  • The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, won a second term on Sunday, as voters endorsed her highly visible leadership during the pandemic. The sprawling metropolis has avoided the kind of spiraling death toll from the virus seen in other world capitals.

  • Pakistan’s health minister said he had tested positive for the virus. The official, Zafar Mirza, wrote on Twitter that he has mild symptoms and is isolating at home. There have been at least 231,000 cases in Pakistan and at least 4,700 deaths.

Much of the world is slowly moving back to normal. How does the U.S. compare?

In today’s edition of The Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt discussed how the United States increasingly looks like an outlier in its response to the pandemic:

When can schools safely reopen? When will the economy really start recovering? And when will you next eat in a restaurant, go to a movie, watch pro sports or hang out at a friend’s house?

All of these are, in fact, versions of the same question: When will the United States finally start to get the coronavirus under control?

And the answer appears to be: not any time soon.

The chart below shows new coronavirus cases, adjusted for population.

In the era of the coronavirus, cash is no longer à la mode.

At Julien Cornu’s cheese shop in Paris, social-distancing requirements and concerns over hygiene now prompt nearly everyone who walks through the door to pay with plastic.

“People are using cards and contactless payments because they don’t want to have to touch anything,” Mr. Cornu said as a line of mask-wearing shoppers stood three feet apart before approaching the register of La Fromagerie and swiping contactless cards over a reader.

While cash is still accepted, even older shoppers — his toughest clientele when it comes to adopting digital habits — are voluntarily making the switch.

Cash was already being edged out in many countries as urban consumers paid increasingly with apps and cards for even the smallest purchases. But the coronavirus is accelerating a shift toward a cashless future, raising new calculations for merchants and enriching the digital payments industry.

Fears over transmission of the disease have compelled consumers to rethink how they shop and pay. Retailers and restaurants are favoring clicks over cash to reduce exposure for employees. China’s central bank sterilized bank notes in regions affected by the virus. Governments in India, Kenya and Sweden, as well as the United Nations, are promoting cashless payments in the name of public health.

“We have a world in which there is less contact,” said Morten Jorgensen, director of RBR, based in London, a consulting firm specializing in banking technology, cards and payments. “People’s habits are changing as we speak.”

Britain’s arts sector, largely shuttered since March because of the pandemic, is being given a lifeline through what Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as a “world-leading” rescue package for cultural and heritage institutions.

The organizations will be handed 1.57 billion pounds, about $2 billion, the culture ministry said Sunday.

Mr. Johnson said in a statement that the money would “help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring art groups and venues across the U.K. can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

The money will go to a variety of recipients, including Britain’s “local basement” music venues and museums, he added, although he did not provide details. Museums in England were allowed to reopen on Saturday, but it is unclear when theaters and music venues will be permitted to.

The amount of the rescue package is on par with others in Europe’s largest nations.

On Friday, Germany’s Parliament approved a fund of 1 billion euros (about $1.13 billion) to get its culture sector back up and running, building on already generous support from its regional legislatures. Many state-funded theaters in Germany receive 70 to 80 percent of their income from the state, compared with about 20 to 30 percent in Britain.

France’s culture ministry said in a news release last week that it had committed €5 billion toward the arts, although much of that included unemployment benefits and job retention initiatives that did not figure in the British or German bailout totals.

In the battle for riders, New York City’s subway has always trounced buses. By a lot.

But at the height of the pandemic the equation was flipped on its head — average daily ridership in April and May was 444,000 on the subway and 505,000 on the buses.

It was the first time that happened since the transit agency started keeping such records more than half a century ago.

Buses have held on to their lead even as the city has begun reopening after a three-month shutdown and more commuters return to work. Average daily counts in June were 752,000 riders for the subway — and 830,000 riders for the buses.

The city’s sprawling bus system, which has long been overshadowed by the subway, has emerged as a crucial part of its recovery.

Buses are being counted on to keep people out of cars and to relieve subway crowding as more commuters come back, drawing many riders who said they felt buses were a safer and less-stressful alternative because riders can wait outside for the bus, see how clean or crowded it is before paying the fare, and hop off at any time and be back outside again.

“I’m more comfortable on the bus,” said Arturo Carrion, 52, who works as a cleaner for Uber. “The train is tight with a lot of people like sardines.”

Nick Cordero, a musical theater actor whose intimidating height and effortless charm brought him a series of tough-guy roles on Broadway, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 41.

His death was announced on Instagram by his wife, Amanda Kloots. The couple, who moved from New York to Los Angeles last year, have a 1-year-old son, Elvis.

She did not cite a cause, but he had been hospitalized for three months after contracting the coronavirus.

Mr. Cordero’s experience with the virus, which included weeks in a medically induced coma and the amputation of his right leg, was chronicled by Ms. Kloots on Instagram.

Mr. Cordero’s big break came in 2014, when he played Cheech, a gangster with a fondness for theater and a talent for tap who was the highlight of a musical adaptation of “Bullets Over Broadway.” The role won him a Tony nomination.

He went on to play the abusive husband of the title character in “Waitress” and a mentoring mobster in “A Bronx Tale.”

Take some time for a little self-care.

Salons may be open in your area, but you don’t have to schedule an appointment there to give yourself a little pampering. Here are some ideas for adding a spa moment to your week.

Reporting was contributed by Liz Alderman, Stephen Castle, Robert Gebeloff, Christina Goldbaum, Winnie Hu, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Apoorva Mandavilli, Alex Marshall, Constant Méheut, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Richard A. Oppel Jr., Michael Paulson, Motoko Rich, Kai Schultz, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Will Wright and Carl Zimmer.





Source link

Categories
Health

Assessing the Real Coronavirus Death Rate: Live Updates


A firm estimate could help governments predict how many deaths would ensue if the virus spread out of control. The figure, usually called the infection fatality rate, could tell health officials what to expect as the pandemic spreads in densely populated nations like Brazil, India and Nigeria.

In poorer countries, the number could help officials decide whether to spend more on oxygen concentrators and ventilators, or on measles shots and mosquito nets.

At present, countries have very different case fatality rates, which measure deaths among patients known to have had Covid-19. In most cases, that number is highest in countries that have had the virus the longest.

According to data gathered by The New York Times, China had reported 90,294 cases as of Friday and 4,634 deaths, a case fatality rate of 5 percent. The United States, which has had a record number of new daily cases six times in the past two weeks, has had 2,811,447 cases and 129,403 deaths, about 4.6 percent.

Ten sizable countries, most in Western Europe, have tested bigger percentages of their populations than the United States has. Their case fatality rates vary wildly: Iceland’s is less than 1 percent, New Zealand’s and Israel’s are below 2 percent. Belgium, by comparison, is at 16 percent, and Italy and Britain are at 14 percent.

Before last week, the World Health Organization had no official estimate for the infection fatality rate. Instead, it had relied on a mix of data sent in by member countries and academic groups, and on a meta-analysis done in May by scientists at the University of Wollongong and James Cook University in Australia.

Those researchers looked at 267 studies in more than a dozen countries and then chose the 25 they considered the most accurate, weighting them for accuracy, and averaged the data. They concluded that the global infection fatality rate was 0.64 percent.



Source link

Categories
Breaking New

The Coronavirus Cost Of Your July 4th Barbecue


BuzzFeed News has reporters around the world bringing you trustworthy stories about the impact of the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member.


After months of stress, Americans have been looking forward to the pre–COVID-19 pleasures of a (socially distanced) 4th of July. How about a cookout? It’s a traditional, low-key summer celebration — but amid the nation’s growing outbreak, even a simple home-cooked meal comes at an exorbitant price.

A BuzzFeed News investigation reveals the extent to which the virus — and the nation’s inadequate response to it — has infected, sickened, and even killed workers up and down the nation’s food supply chains as they work to keep our refrigerators full.

Take a typical summer feast: tangy ribs, a side of creamy pasta salad, and a slice of freshly baked apple pie. If you shop at a Walmart Supercenter, in, say, Massachusetts, the apples you’d buy would have been picked by workers in Washington state’s Yakima Valley, who live in a crowded labor camp with few protections in place. The fruit would then be sorted into boxes in an Allan Bros. packhouse, which for weeks failed to follow federal COVID-19 safety guidelines — even after employees started falling ill.

The ribs would have been sliced and packed by employees at a pork processing plant — like the Tyson Foods facility in Indiana that stayed open for weeks, even as the virus spread through its staff.

The pasta would have been stacked by grocery clerks whose employer was slow to close down for a deep cleaning after workers got sick, and to inform the local health department and customers of the growing outbreak.

From those three workplaces alone — the Allan Bros. packhouse in Yakima Valley, the Tyson plant in Indiana, and the Walmart in Massachusetts — around 1,100 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least four have died, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation based on government documents, company memos, and interviews with around 50 workers, managers, local officials, and labor advocates.

Worried about putting themselves and restaurant staffers at risk, many Americans have turned to home cooking as a safer, more ethical option. But what may seem safer for consumers can still be deadly for the low-paid, often immigrant workers who make up America’s sprawling food supply chains. Across the country, from fields to packhouses to slaughterhouses to grocery stores, companies failed to require masks, build protective barriers, or arrange testing until after outbreaks had spread through the workforce. Some workers in the chain still do not get sick pay, forcing them to choose between spreading the virus or missing out on paychecks — between feeding your family or protecting their own.

“I’d just like to see them keep us safe,” Dennis Medbourn, a worker at the Tyson plant in Logansport, Indiana, where three coworkers he knew have died from COVID-19 complications, told BuzzFeed News. “We’re working a lot of hours, too, to try to make up for the meat shortage.”


Courtesy Eklund Family

Yok Yen Lee (left), who died of the coronavirus, is seen with her daughter, Elaine Eklund.

One grocery worker, Yok Yen Lee, a door greeter at the Walmart in Quincy, Massachusetts, continued to report to work up until days before she died from COVID-19.

“She was really hardworking,” her daughter, Elaine Eklund, told BuzzFeed News. “She absolutely loved that job. She wanted to do that job for her whole life.”

The paths through which food reaches Americans’ plates originate on farms and in factories in small cities and rural towns before making their way across the 50 states. The networks are intricately interrelated, which means that the people who live in those areas and work in those jobs, along with the friends and relatives they come into contact with, shoulder a disproportionate share of the risk to keep the nation fed. An apple picker at a FirstFruits Farms orchard in Yakima Valley appears to have caught the virus from her husband who worked at a Tyson beef plant in the area, according to Erik Nicholson, vice president of United Farm Workers. FirstFruits didn’t respond to a detailed request for comment.

Are you still working during the coronavirus pandemic? We’d love to hear your story. Reach out at albert.samaha@buzzfeed.com or via one of our tip line channels.

Since the start of the pandemic, around 29,000 workers at grocery stores, meatpacking plants, and other food processing facilities have been infected nationwide, and at least 225 have died, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. This is almost certainly an undercount: Many companies have declined to order widespread testing, even at workplaces where employees are falling ill. As a result, the full scope of infections among frontline food workers may never be known.

“What this pandemic is making very clear is that some of our most underpaid, marginalized, and exploited workers are, in fact, our most essential,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who co-sponsored a bill with other Senate colleagues in June to provide protections for the country’s agricultural workers. “Every plate of food reflects a disturbing reality: Food-supply workers — from farmworkers to grocery store clerks — are risking their lives every day to keep us fed, often in unsafe conditions, and far too often making starvation wages.”

“If they don’t work, they don’t get paid — and if they don’t get paid, they don’t eat.”

Apples

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News


Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

“If they don’t work, they don’t get paid — and if they don’t get paid, they don’t eat.”

On April 30, Angelina Lara felt an itch in her throat.

For seven months, she’d worked as a fruit packer for Allan Bros., one of at least 18 produce companies in Yakima Valley, a fertile agricultural zone that rolls east across central Washington from the mighty Cascade mountain range. Lara, 48, grew up in Southern California but moved to the city of Yakima in 2005, following relatives who had come for the jobs at the valley’s plentiful packhouses. Around a third of the local jobs there are in agriculture, more than the next two industries combined. Apples are one of the main businesses in town, and the fruit is at the center of the Yakima city seal. Central Washington accounts for 60% of the nation’s apple production.

Over the years, Lara worked at numerous packhouses, including a previous stint at Allan Bros. She returned to the company last year for a job that paid $13.50 an hour, more than the $12 minimum wage she made previously. Inside a squat warehouse on Highway 12 in the foothills of Mount Rainier, Lara and her fellow day shift employees washed and sorted apples, which are packed and shipped year-round in the region. Around 300 workers clock in for the day shift, standing along a brisk conveyor belt about 2 feet apart, sorting apples, like the organic Fuji variety sold at Walmarts across the country, and separating out fruit that’s been spoiled or infested with worms. (The night shift handles seasonal fruit, such as cherries.)

It’s hard, tiring work, Lara said, and “it’s impossible to be 6 feet apart because at times the line moves so fast that you need somebody to help you with all the apples.”


Elaine Thompson / AP

In this photo taken Oct. 15, 2019, workers sort Granny Smith apples to ready them for shipping in a packing plant in Yakima, Washington.

As COVID-19 was spreading across the state and the country in March and April, Allan Bros. added plexiglass barriers to the office area where management and administrators worked. “But the same was not put in the warehouse,” said Shauri Tello, who moved from Mexico to Yakima when she was 15 and began working in the fruit industry shortly after she graduated high school at age 18, two years ago.

The company hadn’t yet begun providing workers with masks, so some workers brought their own from home, according to four employees and a memo from health officials who inspected the site on May 8.

Lara didn’t immediately assume the itch in her throat meant she’d caught the coronavirus. At the time, she didn’t know if anyone at work had been infected, she said. Still, she stayed home from work the next day as a precaution. Within 24 hours, she had developed a fever. Then she began to have trouble breathing. Lara has asthma, but this was worse than any asthma attack she had ever had. “I was home alone, so I started panicking,” she said. At the hospital, she said, she paid for the COVID-19 test herself — $152 — and it came back positive.

Lara informed Allan Bros. that, under doctor’s orders, she would stay home and quarantine for two weeks. She and another worker who tested positive said that company officials told them that their leave would be unpaid.

She asked her supervisor to “let [her] coworkers know so they can take precautions,” Lara said. “They never did it. Nobody even knew I was sick.”

Three of her coworkers corroborated that claim, saying that management didn’t tell them about any cases at the plant in April and early May. In an emailed statement in response to questions, Allan Bros. denied failing to inform employees about cases until May but declined to specify when it began doing so.

Today, Yakima County has the highest rate of per capita COVID-19 cases in the Pacific Northwest — about 1 for every 34 people. In central Washington — as in other areas such as California’s Imperial and San Joaquin valleys — the agricultural industry is experiencing a reckoning; the methods for packing produce and housing migrant workers that have been maximized for efficiency have created the ideal conditions for the spread of a devastating virus.


Elaine Thompson / AP

A sign outside Yakima, Washington, declares the city the “Palm Springs of Washington,” on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

“When farmers were designing farmworker housing and warehouses in which fruit is sorted, they were in no way considering pandemics,” said Dr. Malcolm Butler, the officer for the combined health district of Chelan and Douglas counties, which lie north of Yakima and are home to some 20 agriculture companies. “They built an industry and fed the world, and unfortunately social distancing is not possible. It’s very challenging and extensive to retool an entire industry at the drop of a hat.”

By late April, the virus had been quietly spreading among apple pickers and packers in central Washington for weeks. The scope of the outbreak remained unknown, in part because many companies were reluctant to arrange comprehensive testing. But even the available case numbers at the time revealed that the region’s fruit workers were facing a mounting threat.

Two weeks before Lara got sick, on April 13, three apple pickers at the Stemilt Growers farm in Douglas County, 70 miles north of the Allan Bros. facilities, developed coughs, according to a court statement from Stemilt’s human resources director, Zach Williams. These three were among the thousands who entered the country on temporary work visas, known as H-2A, for jobs at the region’s farms. While packhouses are largely staffed with local residents who have lived in Washington for years, field work is mostly done by seasonal laborers who ride buses up from Mexico for gigs that can last upward of six months.


Elaine Thompson / AP

A supervisor looks up at a worker pulling honey crisp apples off trees during a thinning operation at an orchard in Yakima, Washington on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Sixty-nine of those workers were housed at Stemilt’s “North District” housing facility, Williams stated. They slept on bunk beds in rooms shared with as many as three others. They also shared a kitchen, a laundry room, and several bathrooms. In the mornings, they piled into vans that carried 14 of them at a time to the orchards.

The company began implementing new procedures to protect workers from COVID-19 as early as March 13, after a worker at a different Stemilt housing facility tested positive. In a memo to employees, Stemilt said that vans and common areas across the company would be sanitized every night and throughout the day.

Those measures weren’t enough.

While the three North District workers were awaiting their test results in mid April, three others at the camp began showing similar symptoms. Ultimately, all six tested positive, according to Williams’ statement. Over the next few days, Stemilt coordinated with local health officials to begin testing all the workers from the North District camp, as well as the eight local crew leaders who worked with them. All the crew leaders tested negative, but 44 of the 69 guest workers ultimately tested positive. When Stemilt conducted another round of testing on April 22, nine more workers tested positive. Most of the cases were asymptomatic. No one was hospitalized.

The state’s Employment Security Department said it expects 27,000 H-2A jobs in 2020. Stemilt declined to comment for this story.

Stemilt was the exception — not in terms of its explosion of cases, but because it looked for them at all. Though local officials in nearby Yakima County offered to organize free testing at all produce industry workplaces, only one fruit company, Columbia Reach Pack, had taken them up on it by late May, according to local health department documents. At most fruit companies in the region, workers only got tested if they showed symptoms or were exposed to a confirmed case, and then called health authorities. Still, by the third week of May, more than 300 fruit workers in the region had tested positive, and health officials identified outbreaks — a workplace infection rate of at least 5% — at seven of the county’s 18 produce companies.

Allan Bros., where Lara worked, was one of the companies that declined to test its workers. Danielle Vincent, a spokesperson for Allan Bros., denied that the county offered to test all its workers — though other companies confirmed the offer, and government documents show that local health officials were “Awaiting Response” from Allan Bros. on an inquiry about whether the company “Want[s] Employee Testing.”

Though 19 of 515 employees at its packhouse had been diagnosed by May 21, the company did not schedule widespread testing, according to local health department records. Workers had to decide whether to risk going to work and getting sick, or staying home and not getting paid.

“The fear of every worker that I know is that they may come down with the virus. And if they don’t work, they don’t get paid — and if they don’t get paid, they don’t eat,” said Erik Nicholson, national vice president of United Farm Workers.


Evan Abell / AP

Workers from Columbia Reach Pack continue to strike in front of the business on River Road on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Yakima, Washington.

COVID-19 exacerbates long-standing power disparities between farmworkers, some of whom are undocumented, and their employers, noted Beth Lyon, a law professor and founder of Cornell University’s Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic.

And while the country has deemed them “essential” during a pandemic, most farmworkers can be fired at will, making many hesitant to advocate for safety measures.

This is particularly true of guest workers, whose visas are directly tied to their employer. “If they speak up for health protections like masks or social distancing, they are likely to lose not only their livelihood but also their housing” and their permission to be in the United States, Lyon told BuzzFeed News.

Local officials and farm owners attribute some of their slow reactions to the pandemic to the lack of direction at the federal level. That’s led the industry to “take care of itself” said Butler, the Chelan–Douglas Health District officer.

“The difficulty we’ve had was that there was absolutely no guidance on what was the right way to house H-2A workers,” he said.

Sean Gilbert, who leads Gilbert Orchards, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s changing position on masks left his company in a conundrum. In March — as the country’s top public health agency told citizens not to use masks and to save them for healthcare professionals — orchard and packhouse operators donated a few thousand N95 masks they had gathered for fire season to local hospitals. Weeks later, when the CDC changed its guidance, those businesses were left scrambling, facing stiff competition and spiking prices for face coverings as the rest of the world competed for mask shipments.

Gilbert, whose operation includes 4,000 acres of orchards and 1,200 workers during peak season, noted that apples are a “labor-intensive business” with small margins. As a result of social distancing measures, the packhouse could only prepare 10,000 boxes of apples per shift from late March to the end of May, rather than the typical 12,000.

“Keeping people apart means that people can’t hand off things in a process,” he told BuzzFeed News, “and it slows the process down.” He added that protective equipment and hazard pay add a further squeeze on Gilbert Orchards’ economics. “COVID has fundamentally changed how we do business.”

Yet he didn’t see the need to allow health officials to test all his employees. Gilbert Orchards — where at least 26 of the 350 or so employees in the packhouse, shipping, and administrative departments have been diagnosed — declined Yakima County’s offer to arrange testing at the facility and instead suggested its workers take advantage of the free testing sites local officials had set up around the valley.

Gilbert said part of his reasoning was fear of upsetting his employees. “I turned down their offer to bring in a National Guard unit to quarantine our facility while they escorted people to and from testing tents,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I felt that requiring that of all employees would have been potentially traumatic.”


Evan Abell / AP

A committee of Allan Bros. workers exits the company’s office after turning in a signed agreement to return to work, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Naches, Washington, after a strike to protest what they consider unsafe working conditions at several fruit warehouses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

If guest workers are among the most vulnerable employees in the produce industry, workers who live year-round in central Washington are only slightly more secure.

Lara’s diagnosis, she said, threw her family into a precarious financial position. Her husband, who works at the same warehouse, and her two sons, who work as nursing assistants, tested negative but stayed home as a precaution in case they subsequently caught the virus from her. The household of four went without a paycheck for two weeks. Lara qualified for unemployment insurance because she’d been diagnosed, and her husband and sons may be eligible for family leave benefits — but whatever government money they’d receive wouldn’t come soon enough to meet the bills coming due. The family burned through years’ worth of savings in a matter of days, she said.

Back at Allan Bros., meanwhile, workers in the packhouse said the company still hadn’t distributed masks, and as the cases mounted, many were growing angry.

On May 7, dozens of Allan Bros. workers went on strike over conditions they said were unsafe; in the days that followed, around 500 workers from six other fruit companies joined them. When Lara’s quarantine ended, she took a spot in the line of workers holding signs by the road, chanting through colorful cloth masks. Local lawyers and union representatives estimated that the labor action was one of the largest they’d seen among agriculture workers in Yakima, reminiscent of the marches César Chávez attended in the county in the 1980s.

Nearly every day, at each of the seven strike locations, the workers encountered local white residents driving by, shouting at them to get back to work, said Cristina Ortega, an activist who participated in the strikes. She recalled those drivers saying things like “If you don’t like it, get out.” On another occasion, a man shouted out his car window that he was going to “come back and shoot you all,” according to a Yakima County Sheriff’s Office incident report and written witness statements. When deputies later caught him returning to the scene, he told them that Allan Bros. “treats those people very well and they should not be protesting,” according to the incident report. The man was arrested and charged with malicious harassment.

The backlash against the striking workers reflected a long-standing resistance to Yakima’s growing Latinx population for some. Latinx residents accounted for 15% of the city’s population in 1980, 30% in 2000, and 50% in 2018. Still, no Latinx candidate had been elected to office in the city until 2015, after a federal judge ruled that the city’s previous system of at-large council seats violated the Voting Rights Act. In 2016, a majority of the county’s residents cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Three weeks into the strike, Lara finally went back to work. Allan Bros. had installed protective barriers in the packhouse, offered a $1-an-hour pay raise, and started providing masks, according to Lara and three coworkers. Though she has been cleared of infection, she still has trouble breathing and sleeps sitting up most nights. She said her doctor told her it might be months before she feels normal again.

She considers herself fortunate, she said. One of her coworkers, 60-year-old David Cruz, got sick a few days after she did. His wife and daughter tested positive too, Lara said. He had worked at the plant for 12 years, most recently putting together boxes on the upper level of the warehouse. When Lara saw him on breaks, he was “always positive, getting along with everybody,” she said. On one of the last days of work before the pandemic hit, Cruz told Lara about his plans to visit his mother in Mexico for the first time in years. “He was very happy he was going to see her,” Lara recalled. “He was planning for June or July.”

He died on May 31. His coworkers collected $4,000 to give to his wife. The mood at the packhouse has been somber since.

“Wow. It spread out really, really quick.”

Pork Ribs

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News


Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

“Wow. It spread out really, really quick.”

Every morning at the Tyson pork plant in Logansport, Indiana, a low-slung town of 18,000 that’s located at the intersection of three highways and surrounded by livestock ranches, farmers deliver the hogs to the kill floor, known colloquially as the “hot side.”

There, the pigs move through pens, into a machine that stuns them, and then onto a conveyor belt that carries them to the knife that slits their throats. On a normal day, Tyson’s kill floor processes five hogs every 16 seconds, according to Dennis Medbourn, a 52-year-old worker who sets the speed on the machines. Workers stand elbow to elbow along the production line, peel the hog’s skin off, cut through its center, remove its guts, and hang its carcass on a hook that takes it to the plant’s refrigerated “cold side.” The movements are strenuous and repetitive; to try to prevent injuries, ergonomic monitors — their official job title — walk up and down the line checking on the welfare of workers.

An ergonomic monitor on the hot side, a 16-year Tyson veteran who requested anonymity out of fear of losing his job, began seeing some of his coworkers wearing cloth masks they brought from home in early April.


Darron Cummings / AP

An employee leaving the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Logansport, Indiana on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

Outbreaks were beginning to pop up at meatpacking plants around the country. Tyson had instituted temperature checks at Logansport but hadn’t yet installed plexiglass barriers or distributed any protective equipment — even though another Tyson pork plant, in Columbus Junction, Iowa, had closed on April 6, leaving the company all the more reliant on its other five hog slaughterhouses.

“That’s when everybody was thinking, Man, why don’t they close our plant?” said Medbourn. “You’d hear people coughing and stuff. People weren’t showing up for work more than usual.”

Tyson declined to comment on whether its Logansport plant increased production during that period, but a spokesperson, Liz Cronston, said, “The level of production at which we determine to operate in our facilities is dependent on ensuring team member safety.”

The company has maintained that its response to the pandemic was swifter than most. Cronston noted that Tyson began seeking masks for workers even before the CDC recommended their use, and it was one of the first companies to proactively test all employees for COVID-19. “If we learned a team member had tested positive for the virus, we notified co-workers who had been in close contact,” she said. “Our priority and focus have been the protection of our team members and their communities.”

The ergonomic monitor tried to maintain a few feet of distance when he checked on workers — but the long, open-tiered plant was loud with the whirring of electric saws, the rumble of conveyor belts, and the echoing clangs of metal. He sometimes had to lean in close to talk and hear, he said. He interacted with around 200 workers each day. Tyson began requiring employees to wear masks in mid-April.

On April 23, with rising case numbers at several facilities, Tyson organized COVID-19 testing for all 2,200 of its workers in Logansport.

The monitor and others on his shift filed into a big white tent in the parking lot, “all pushed together to get out from the rain” as nurses swabbed their noses, he said.

A few days later, he got a call informing him of his result: He had COVID-19 — one of 890 Tyson workers to test positive by the end of April in Logansport, a staggering 40% of the plant’s workforce. Like most of them, the monitor showed no symptoms at the time of diagnosis, although he did recall feeling unusually tired the previous week. He shuddered at the thought that he may have infected the people he saw every day.

“I wouldn’t have suspected if I didn’t get tested,” he said. “I was really freaked out. Just, like, wow. It spread out really, really quick.”

Tyson closed its Logansport plant for two weeks starting on April 25. All six of its pork plants have had outbreaks of at least 200 cases, and five have temporarily closed. At one point, four of the country’s five largest known outbreaks in meatpacking plants were at Tyson sites. To date, around 8,500 Tyson workers have tested positive, more than the company’s three biggest industry competitors combined, according to data compiled by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

But Tyson’s standing at the top of this list isn’t necessarily because its plants are more dangerous than those of its rivals, but because the company has been more committed to determining how many of its employees have been infected, even though revealing those numbers almost guarantees a plant’s closure. The other big meat companies — JBS, Smithfield Foods, and Cargill — haven’t conducted comprehensive testing at most facilities, even as meat processing plants became widely known as incubators for the virus.

“We believe it’s imperative that we share our experience addressing this pandemic because safety is not a point of competitive advantage,” said Cronston, Tyson’s spokesperson. “Results from these tests have allowed us to find team members who have the virus but don’t have symptoms and would not otherwise have been identified.”

For Tyson, JBS, Smithfield, and Cargill, closing a plant sends a ripple effect across both ends of the supply line. The four companies produce around 85% of the meat sold in the US, churning out pork, beef, and poultry in massive facilities staffed by the thousands of employees needed to reach output goals. The concentration of meat production into a few dozen mega-plants has led to lower prices but has also left the system vulnerable to major disruption, adding further pressure on workers to help keep the plants going.

Tyson is the largest buyer for many farmers around the country and one of the largest suppliers for many groceries, including Walmart. A plant closure can lead to lost wages for livestock sellers at the start of the chain and barren meat shelves for consumers at the end. “Our plants must remain operational,” CEO John Tyson wrote in a full-page ad in the Washington Post and New York Times in late April, noting the company’s “responsibility to feed our country.” The Trump administration codified that idea into law with its April 28 executive order granting meatpacking corporations immunity from legal liability for sick workers.

As Tyson got ready to reopen the Logansport plant, it notified employees through an automated text service that starting May 6, “If eligible to work, you will be required to work all scheduled hours in order to receive the guarantee pay.” Workers would receive a $30 “daily show up bonus” for all shifts through the end of May, another text stated. A May 8 text told employees that if they had been “symptom free for the last 72 hours without the use of any medication you can report to Tyson” — though the message didn’t include CDC’s additional recommendation that those diagnosed should only stop isolating at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms. One worker, a loin cutter in the cold side, told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t feel symptoms until 12 days after he tested positive, just as his two weeks of paid quarantine time was ending, leaving him temporarily without a paycheck as he applied for short-term disability to cover additional time off.


Michael Conroy / AP

Workers line up to enter the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

Tyson maintains that its policy has been clear: “Any team member who has tested positive will remain on sick leave until they’ve satisfied official health requirements for return to work,” Cronston said.

But some Logansport workers vented their frustrations on a private Facebook group called “Tyson Talk,” expressing dismay at the company’s plan to reopen even while nearly half of its workforce was under quarantine. They also shared health updates; on May 5, a group member wrote in both English and Spanish that someone from the slaughter side had died from the virus.

In fact, at least three workers at the Logansport plant have died of the coronavirus, according to local health officials and a union steward at the plant.

Tyson officials refused to confirm the number of workers who died. “We’re deeply saddened by the loss of any team member,” Cronston said. “We don’t have a number to share.”

Tyson also declined to provide an update on the number of confirmed cases at the plant since the 890 reported in April, but local health officials estimated that “over 1,000” of the plant’s workers have tested positive.

Cass County, where Logansport is located, has nearly triple the rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people compared to the rate of the next highest Indiana county, and Tyson’s pork processing facility is one of the area’s largest employers. Tyson was “absolutely the hot spot” for COVID-19 in the county, said Serenity Alter, the administrator for the Cass County Health Department.

The Tyson plant reopened on May 6. The company ramped up production as quickly as its workers could return, accelerating from half-capacity to nearly full capacity within two weeks. It provided face shields, built plexiglass barriers in the cafeteria, and expanded its cleaning staff.

“All you can do is wear one of these masks and wash your hands,” a Tyson senior manager in Texas said of the risk that meatpacking workers face during the pandemic. “I gotta assume most of the people in our facility have been around or interacted with someone who was positive.”


Michael Conroy / AP

Workers are seen leaving the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Logansport carrying various types of personal protective equipment, on Thursday, May 7, 2020.

Two months removed from the Logansport plant’s mass testing, some workers are still infected with the virus, though Tyson won’t say how many are now out sick.

“We currently have very few cases,” Cronston said. “We are aware of no positive cases of any team member currently working in our facility.”

When he returned from his quarantine, the ergonomic monitor wore a mask and kept several feet of distance from the coworkers he checked on. At the facility last month, he and others walked past a daily reminder of the cost of producing pork through the pandemic: A memorial of wreaths and photos in the common area honored the three workers who have died from the virus. It stayed up until the middle of June.

“We weren’t prepared to lose her this suddenly.”

Pasta

Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News


Bobby Doherty for BuzzFeed News

“We weren’t prepared to lose her this suddenly.”

While fruit pickers and meat-packers labor out of view of consumers, grocery clerks serve at the public-facing end point of the supply chain, the final set of hands to touch your food before you do. As grocery stores became all the more critical to keeping people fed during lockdown, their safety protocols soon concerned not just the workers who spend their days there but the customers passing through.

In March, as the US declared a state of emergency, panicked shoppers flocked to supermarkets to hoard toilet paper, flour, and pasta; in stores around the country, shelves began to empty. Some lined up in the early morning for a first crack at the inventory. Many didn’t wear masks.

It didn’t take long for the virus to reach the Walmart Supercenter in Worcester, Massachusetts, which has an online inventory that includes Tyson pork ribs and Fuji apples from Rainier Fruit, Allan Bros.’ distributor. (A spokesperson for Walmart said that Tyson pork ribs are not on the store’s shelves at this time.) On April 27, the store posted on Facebook that it would close on April 30 for a single “day of deep cleaning and sanitizing” before reopening early the next morning. Some shoppers from the postindustrial city around 50 miles from Boston were horrified.


Brian Snyder / Reuters

Shopping carts are left outside the Walmart Superstore in Worcester, Massachusetts, temporarily closed by an order from the city after numerous employees tested positive for the coronavirus, on April 30, 2020.

“How do you ‘deep clean’ in one day??” a commenter wrote.

But while shoppers had the option of staying away from the store, some of Walmart’s workers felt they did not. Despite the widespread testing shortages at the time, the company’s COVID-19 emergency leave policy didn’t offer additional paid time off to staffers unless they tested positive or were subject to mandatory quarantine — a policy that advocates said is too narrow as it doesn’t clearly cover workers who feel ill, are immunocompromised, or need to care for a sick relative.

By the end of April, Walmart knew that a growing number of employees in Worcester — as well as in another store in Quincy, an hour’s drive away — had contracted the virus, which was quickly spreading through the state. Although the company had released a plan detailing how they’d keep workers safe a month prior, the stores weren’t providing staffers or local public health departments with enough information about sick workers, records show.

“We have had consistent problems with Walmart,” Quincy’s health commissioner, Ruth Jones, wrote on April 28 to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. “They have a cluster of Covid cases among employees and have not been cooperative in giving us contact information or in following proper quarantine and isolation guidelines.”

Yok Yen Lee, a 69-year-old door greeter at the Quincy store, was so fearful of contracting the coronavirus that she used most of her accumulated paid time off in March and early April when case numbers in the US began to skyrocket, her daughter, Elaine Eklund, told BuzzFeed News. Shortly after Lee returned to work in mid-April, she began to feel sick but assumed she’d caught a cold from spending her eight-hour shift standing outside in near-freezing temperatures. On April 11, the Quincy Health Department contacted Walmart to inform the store that one of Lee’s coworkers had tested positive for the coronavirus. Although Walmart had waived its normal attendance policy in March, Lee continued to clock in, afraid of losing her job if she took more days off, Eklund said.

Walmart’s website says it began requiring employees to wear masks on April 17. But one current Quincy checkout employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, said management told employees in April that masks weren’t necessary. Sometimes there would be 500 people in the store and no social distancing in the employee back rooms, according to the employee. “It was like corona was a myth,” they said. A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment on these specific allegations.

Lee had worked at the store for about 15 years, after emigrating from China in the 1980s and working a series of retail jobs. Colleagues described her as a joyous woman who doled out hugs and danced spontaneously but also showed a tough side when it came to dealing with rude customers.

Lee told at least one colleague, the checkout employee, that she had a slight cough. She had attempted to apply for extended leave, but found the process, which was managed by a third-party administrator, exceedingly complicated as she primarily spoke Cantonese, Eklund said. On April 19, Lee didn’t feel well at work and went home early. The next day, she had a fever and couldn’t get out of bed. Paramedics, with the help of a maintenance worker, cut the lock to her door and rushed her to a hospital, where she was intubated. Her request for extended leave from Walmart was approved on April 28, as she lay bedridden in the ICU, Eklund recalled.

She would have turned 70 last week. Instead, she died on May 3 — one of at least 22 Walmart employees killed by COVID-19 nationwide, according to United for Respect, a labor advocacy group. Lee left behind a daughter and two grandchildren, including one who was born in December.

“She never even got a real family picture with her grandson,” Eklund said. “We were starting to become a complete family. We weren’t prepared to lose her this suddenly.”

Only after Lee died did the Quincy Walmart close its doors. It soon emerged that 33 other employees there had contracted the virus.

The Worcester Walmart became one of the largest clusters in the state, with 82 employees ultimately diagnosed with COVID-19. It was also one of the largest outbreaks at any grocery retailer in the country.

By the time the store posted on Facebook about the daylong cleaning in late April, local officials were investigating the situation. Public health inspectors obtained an internal company list showing that nearly two dozen employees had tested positive for the coronavirus before the store closed, 20 within a one-week time period, Walter Bird Jr., a city spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News.

They also reviewed a photo of a sign instructing staffers to work their scheduled shifts during that April 30 cleaning: They were expected to help “clean, sanitize and stock” the store alongside a third-party cleaning service so it would be ready to open the next morning.


Obtained by BuzzFeed News

A sign posted on the door of the Walmart Supercenter in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The city of Worcester issued a cease-and-desist order that day, “forcing the store to close immediately,” Bird said. It was the first time any US Walmart was closed by the government. The store didn’t reopen until May 5, after the company agreed to test all of the store’s nearly 400 employees.

The outbreaks in the Quincy and Worcester Walmarts were caused by “dangerous working conditions” present at other branches, as well, according to a complaint recently filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by United for Respect, which surveyed stores nationwide. The complaint claimed that Walmart didn’t provide sufficient paid sick leave to its employees, “thereby pressuring people to go to work even if they have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.”

The complaint also alleged that Walmart didn’t enforce social distancing and had failed to quickly close stores for cleaning and disinfecting after employees were exposed or diagnosed — as was the case in Worcester and Quincy — allowing the virus to spread further among employees and the public.

All these failures violated state and federal guidance for employers, the complaint alleged.

“Communities across the country have suffered from coronavirus cases, and with more than 1.5 million associates in the United States, and stores, clubs and other facilities located within 10 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population, Walmart is not immune to the impact of COVID-19,” said Phillip Keene, a Walmart spokesperson. The corporation has worked “to find an appropriate balance between supporting our associates and serving our customers” during the pandemic, he said, by following deep cleaning, sanitizing, and social distancing protocols guided by the CDC. Associates are given health screenings and temperature checks prior to their shifts, for example, and employees who appear ill are asked to return home. Walmart has instructed managers since March to inform associates when one of their coworkers falls ill, Keene said.

There are no laws mandating that retailers report coronavirus cases, leaving it up to stores to decide how best to handle outbreaks. In May, a delegation of state lawmakers led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, demanding more information about how the retail giant would make changes to prevent future outbreaks and protect workers.

In its response, Walmart deflected responsibility, saying it may be “impossible to track the source of anyone’s infection.”

“Walmart’s response is unacceptable,” Warren said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Nearly 100 Walmart workers in Massachusetts got sick with coronavirus and one died due to an outbreak at the store but the company refused to answer questions on what happened and what changes it is making to keep our residents safe at work.”

One recent afternoon in June, as protesters filled streets across the country, a line of masked shoppers stretched outside the Worcester Walmart as the store limited capacity to around 20% below its usual level. Shelves were stocked with pasta again, apples were piled into abundant mounds, and pork ribs lay beside long rows of fresh meat. Fruit farms, meatpacking plants, and grocery stores were open for business in every corner of America. The food supply chains kept on humming. ●


Courtesy Eklund Family

Yok Yen Lee, seen her carrying her granddaughter in 2018, was never able to take a full family photo with her new grandson who was born in December, according to daughter Elaine Eklund. Lee died in May of COVID-19.

Salvador Hernandez contributed reporting to this story.



Source link

Categories
Health

Models Project Face Masks Can Reduce Significant Amount Of Coronavirus Deaths : NPR


A face mask covers the mouth and nose of one of the iconic lion statues in front of the New York Public Library Main Branch on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in New York, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ted Shaffrey/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Ted Shaffrey/AP

A face mask covers the mouth and nose of one of the iconic lion statues in front of the New York Public Library Main Branch on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in New York, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ted Shaffrey/AP

More widespread wearing of face masks could prevent tens of thousands of deaths by COVID-19, epidemiologists and mathematicians project.

A model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that near-universal wearing of cloth or homemade masks could prevent between 17,742 and 28,030 deaths across the US before Oct. 1.

The group, which advises the White House as well as state and local governments, is submitting the model for peer review, says Theo Vos, Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at IHME.

Another projection developed by researchers at Arizona State University in April showed that 24–65% of projected deaths could be prevented in Washington state in April and May if 80% of people wore cloth or homemade masks in public.

These projections shed light on the promises face masks might hold as COVID-19 cases surge in some states and more local authorities mandate the wearing of face masks.

Texas is now mandating face masks in public in most of the state; Jacksonville Fl, host city of the Republican National Convention in August, mandated wearing face masks in public and indoor locations where people cannot otherwise social distance on June 29.

Republican leaders including Vice President Mike Pence, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Marco Rubio of Florida, have joined public health officials urging the public to wear facemasks. Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of Congress appealed to the public to wear face masks in a congressional hearing Tuesday. And President Trump, in a change of tone, told Fox Business on Wednesday he’s ‘all for masks.’

But public health professionals lament that trust in face masks is hampered by the government’s earlier recommendation against them.

Fauci told TheStreet mid-June that he did not recommend face masks at the beginning of the outbreak to conserve supplies for healthcare workers. On Thursday Fauci told NPR that the administration’s initial ambivalence towards face masks was ‘detrimental in getting the message across.’

The World Health Organization gave NPR the same reasoning for not recommending masks to the general public in April. The organization has since updated its guidelines.

Benjamin Cowling, Professor and head of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, has studied effects of face masks for ten years and co-wrote a commentary in The Lancet advocating more face mask usage in March. He says while he understands the authorities’ desire to preserve supplies for medical workers, the messaging made the public distrust masks.

“Few months ago, medical experts were saying that they don’t work and you don’t need them. And now suddenly, without any change in the evidence base, they’re suddenly saying that they do work and you should wear them.” Cowling says, ‘I think that that’s unhelpful.

Mask adoption in the US has been uneven. A survey from the data collection firm Premise shows that the percentage of people who ‘always wear a mask when going out’ ranges from 15% in Tennessee to 62% in Massachusetts as of June 19.

For both ASU and IHME’s models, the proportion of deaths face masks could prevent differs from location to location and during different stages of the pandemic because transmission rates in the community at the time of projection affect outcomes.

In ASU’s model, widespread community transmission would call for more effective face masks – for example, the surgical masks used in hospitals – to significantly reduce the number of projected deaths. But in places where transmission is not as widespread, most people wearing simple cloth masks would be able to prevent a significant portion of deaths.

In IHME’s model, the more people each infected individual can spread the virus to, the more deaths masking can prevent. It also projects that the virus would follow seasonal patterns and pick up again in the fall. Vos says this means places that have relatively safe levels of the spread now could see more pressure to contain the virus later.

“The use of masks…in those places is going to become a lot more marked and beneficial.” Vos says.

Regardless of community transmission rates, both models show that the more universal face masks are worn, the more deaths can be prevented.

It’s difficult to know whether the projections are correct because it’s difficult to know how the public is actually wearing masks. But considering that research on face masks show that they can tamp down transmission, modellers agree that they should help save lives when worn by a large portion of the population.

“Clearly, clearly the data shows that every model and study that we have seen, every public health policy in the world has said exactly the same thing,” says Abba Gumel, who led the ASU project, ‘We have to wear a face mask.’

Andrea Hsu and Courtney Dorning produced and edited the audio version of this story.



Source link

Categories
Health

Coronavirus response at crossroads as U.S. marks Fourth of July



“We have perhaps one more chance to get this right,” said Aileen Marty, an infectious-disease specialist at Florida International University whose argument for meticulous asymptomatic testing went unheeded in April when a sampling site opened at the Miami school. Three months later, she is renewing her appeal as cases soar in Miami-Dade County, the center of the outbreak in Florida, which Friday reported 9,488 new infections.

This week, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned the country could soon record 100,000 cases a day — more than half the total recorded by such peer democracies as France and Germany since the pandemic began. An outbreak on that scale could force whole swaths of the nation back into lockdown, depressing consumer activity, accelerating layoffs and further damaging the American economy as much of the developed world climbs back toward normalcy.

“This weekend, the next week-and-a-half, perhaps the next two weeks are make or break,” said Marty, a former Navy physician whose dire warnings were circulated in a letter this week among Miami-Dade commissioners. “If we don’t massively change our behavior right now, to stop facilitating the transmission of the virus, then we are facing either another lockdown or a massive number of hospitalizations and deaths.”

With the menace newly visible in Republican-controlled states, some in the party’s leadership have shifted their stance about masks. Vice President Pence has begun covering his face for public appearances, and President Trump said he liked the way he looked in one and would wear it when he saw fit.

Scarred by surging cases after Memorial Day, state and local leaders from Los Angeles to Miami Beach prepared for the Fourth of July holiday by closing businesses and imposing curfews. In California, which took some of the earliest and most aggressive actions to contain the virus but saw cases explode after easing restrictions, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) shut down bars and suspended indoor dining in much of the state.

On Thursday, the mayor of Miami-Dade County took the extraordinary step of imposing a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

“This curfew is meant to stop people from venturing out and hanging out with friends in groups, which has shown to be spreading the virus rapidly,” Mayor Carlos A. Giménez wrote in a statement, which cited the death of an 11-year-old in the county from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Leaders who once ordered residents indoors reached instead for ultimatums, signaling that more painful measures were on the horizon. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) cautioned students and parents this week that their “actions will determine, frankly, whether we can open schools in the fall.” She joined governors of both parties, many of them reluctant to take more sweeping actions, in “urging” and “asking” residents to stay home and to practice social distancing.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) embarked on a “wear a mask” tour of his state. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) encouraged Floridians to be “diligent.”

“It’s a small sacrifice to make if we know we’re protecting others,” said Cara Conlogue, a first-grade teacher in Palm Beach, Fla.

Nearby, Jason Higgins was loading $500 worth of fireworks into his SUV. He planned to set them off in his backyard, observing, “We need to get on with life, but we need to be cautious.”

Few, however, can agree on how to strike that balance. Ron Ayala, a sales manager in Phoenix, said the precautions taken by some do not compensate for the disregard of others.

“The problem is that you’ve got some people that they’ll go all in — they’re wearing gloves and masks, they’ve got the eye protection, they don’t leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Ayala said. “And then there’s others that they don’t care. They’ll do whatever they want.”

That divide is on vivid display for nurses and emergency physicians, who finish 12-hour shifts in coronavirus wards and then walk the aisles of grocery stores, sometimes the only shoppers in masks.

“It’s very discouraging,” said Serena Bumpus, the Austin-based director of practice for the Texas Nurses Association. “We’re still waiting to see if the public will change their behavior.”

A turning point was marked Thursday, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) stopped waiting and imposed a statewide mask mandate requiring face coverings in counties with more than 20 cases. Mark McClellan, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration who has been advising Abbott on his response, said the governor became concerned by how quickly the rate of hospitalizations was intensifying, with the state’s average of daily covid-19 hospitalizations 60 percent higher than it was a week ago, according to Washington Post data.

Abbott, who once blocked efforts by local officials to require masks, said of his decision, “Covid-19 is not going away. In fact, it’s getting worse.”

That much is true nationally, as the country Friday reached a new high in its seven-day average of cases, as it has done consecutively for the past 25 days. At least 35 states this week reported single-day increases that eclipsed new cases in all of Italy, the center of the European outbreak.

“We’ve all been looking at these charts of Europe and the U.S.,” said David O’Sullivan, a former Irish civil servant who served as ambassador from the European Union to the United States from 2014 to 2019. “At one point, we were more or less at the same point on the graph, but then we’ve gone down and down, even with opening back up, and in the U.S., the numbers are soaring.”

Americans submitted to stay-at-home orders in March and April in a bid to preserve medical resources and buy the country’s leaders time to develop an effective regime of testing, contact tracing and isolation. But they emerged this summer to conflicting messages about the scale of sacrifice still required; squabbles over the partisan signals sent by wearing masks; and inadequate resources, from testing reagents to hospital beds, to keep them safe.

Universities that once entertained the prospect of resuming ordinary operations in the fall are increasingly committing to alternative plans. From the White House to governor’s offices, trade-offs are crystallizing.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, defined the decision this way in a recent appearance on Fox News: “Do you want to open the bars now, or do you want to open the schools and the day-care centers in a few short weeks? I vote for the latter.”

In Georgia, Kemp threatened to take away college football, saying this year’s season would be a “tall task” if the state’s numbers kept rising.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) invoked the favorite pastime as an incentive. “Let me make it very clear,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Wear a mask and social distance now so we can enjoy high school and college football in South Carolina this fall.”

Congressional Republicans were at pains to dispel the stigma of masks for some in their party as even Trump seemed to shift his stance this week. “I’m all for masks,” he said in an interview on Fox Business Network.

At the same time, the president renewed his notion, which defies evidence, that the virus would simply fade away.

“I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus,” Trump said. “I think that at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”

Similar confidence seemed to animate the approach of some leaders even in regions buffeted by the virus. In Texas, the Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, assailed Fauci for suggesting that some states “skipped over” key benchmarks for reopening.

“The only thing I’m skipping over is listening to him,” Patrick told Fox anchor Laura Ingraham, referring to the nation’s top infectious diseases expert.

The inconsistent messaging is causing Americans to throw up their hands, said Umair A. Shah, the medical director in hard-hit Harris County, which includes Houston and is leading Texas in confirmed cases. Some people, he said, are concluding, “Well, gosh, I’m just going to risk it.”

“This is where the federal government, and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in particular, comes in,” Shah said. “In the past it’s been a convener, bringing communities and health departments together, saying, ‘Here’s what we’re doing across the system.’ I have not seen that as much now.”

The CDC had 47 teams activated as of this week to assist local health officials, including 36 working directly in the field. A number were tackling outbreaks in communities of color and among younger age groups, according to a spreadsheet obtained by The Post.

While new infections have been most prevalent among young people, and while deaths have not risen as sharply as caseloads, the death toll is only just coming into view. Arizona on Wednesday reported 88 deaths, a one-day high, and CDC analysis of incidence and mortality — collected in a slide deck obtained by The Post — also shows sharp increases in daily deaths from covid-19 in Texas and Florida.

Meanwhile, scenes of besieged intensive care units that shocked the country when they emerged from New York in the spring are now being envisioned across the Sun Belt. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said he worries some hospitals could run out of ICU beds by the end of July — the entire state by the end of August.

The holiday weekend, he said, “is probably our last chance to avoid at least some of our hospitals simply being overwhelmed.”

But health officials across the country are drained, and some are using the holiday weekend as the first opportunity to take time off since the pandemic’s onset. Testing sites administered by the public health district that covers 13 counties in central Georgia are closed Friday and Saturday. “We have been working six to seven days a week since March,” said the health district’s spokesman, Michael Hokanson.

Others preparing to work over the holiday weekend wondered if they would come to regret it. Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas, welcomed a new statewide mask mandate but noted it came 24 days after casinos opened. The union is suing three casino companies, alleging they failed to adequately protect workers from exposure to the virus among unmasked crowds, while the companies say they followed proper procedure.

Elsewhere, there was hope a silver lining might emerge from an increasingly visible crisis. Arizona health officials this week authorized hospitals to implement “crisis care” standards dictating how to ration medical resources, a move that public health experts said may finally make clear to residents the consequences of unchecked viral spread.

“People are just in denial,” said Joanna Bivens, a hairstylist in Gilbert, Ariz.

Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said new guidelines issued by the governor, combined with “public messaging and education,” would help stem the tide.

Others said the emphasis on coaxing the public to behave was misplaced. In Miami-Dade, a county commissioner who disseminated Marty’s proposal for more robust testing and contact tracing, said the government’s response must go beyond beseeching people to be safe.

“To blame it on people not wearing masks is to mask the truth,” said the commissioner, Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat running to be the county’s mayor.

She said contact tracing, which is overseen by the state, is perfunctory and highly limited, despite plans to contract with a third-party call center, Maximus, to bolster Florida’s workforce.

Neither the state health department nor the county mayor, Giménez, responded to requests for comment. And it remained unclear how the plan laid out by Marty, though it met a positive reception among county officials, would be put into practice.

At a commission meeting this week convened to address the county’s rising caseload, Giménez, a Republican running for Congress, stressed the importance of social distancing and wearing masks. “Unfortunately, we think — we know — that a number of our citizens did not do the things that we asked them to do,” he said

The mayor made the right call by closing the beaches for the Fourth of July, Marty said. Now, there needs to be a broader reset, said the infectious diseases expert.

“We have to give this piece of genetic material its due, or it’s going to continue to wreak havoc,” she said.

Jacqueline Dupree in Washington, Jeremy Duda in Phoenix and Lori Rozsa in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach contributed to this report.





Source link

Categories
Breaking New

Las Vegas Coronavirus Relief Task Force Partnered With Company Tied To UAE Intelligence


A company that owns an app that some allege may have been secretly used by the autocratic regime of the United Arab Emirates to spy on people may have gained an entry point into Southern Nevada, after a COVID-19 relief task force in Nevada struck a deal in May with the company — despite the company’s ties to the UAE’s intelligence services.

Both the firm, Abu Dhabi–based Group 42, and the private-sector Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief, and Recovery Task Force said in a press release that Nevada had obtained “vital testing materials thanks to a long-term partnership with the UAE and G42.”

According to the press release, the government of the UAE donated coronavirus test kits, and G42 offered its expertise and technical capabilities, as well as help with an “innovative genomic study” at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, the press release said.

Former CEO of MGM Resorts Jim Murren, the head of the task force, said in the release that “resources from G42 will substantially increase our ability to conduct COVID-19 testing and research to help us mitigate the effects of this virus.”

But what Murren appears not to have known is that G42 was involved in building a digital tool allegedly used by the intelligence services of the United Arab Emirates.

G42, an artificial intelligence company, is the only registered shareholder of ToTok, a chat app that was the subject of an exposé in the New York Times in December. Downloaded millions of times around the world, ToTok may have been used by the UAE’s intelligence services to collect data on people who use it, their conversations, and their images, according to the Times’ analysis of the app.

The app’s creator was listed as a company called Breej Holding, but according to the Times, it was “most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm where Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives work. DarkMatter is under F.B.I. investigation, according to former employees and law enforcement officials, for possible cybercrimes.”

After the New York Times investigation, both Google and Apple removed ToTok from their app stores.

Bill Marczak, a researcher at Toronto-based digital research group Citizen Lab who has written extensively about G42, said he was surprised when he first saw the news of the Las Vegas deal. “It raises a question about what data this company is getting access to,” he said.

Along with Breej Holdings and DarkMatter, G42 is part of an opaque web of companies linked to the powerful Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who oversees much of the country’s national security apparatus. A Reuters investigation in January 2019 found that DarkMatter recruited former NSA operatives to spy on suspected militants, other governments, and human rights activists.

G42 shares a number of staff with DarkMatter, including its CEO, Peng Xiao. The company has said previously it has no connection to DarkMatter.

On Wednesday, a representative for ToTok told BuzzFeed News, “ToTok is a private company that is led by a group of international entrepreneurs and engineers. ToTok does not spy on its users and the company has no connections to any government entity.”

On the same day, a spokesperson for G42 told BuzzFeed News, “G42 was ToTok’s first investor and has also acted as an incubator in the early days of ToTok’s development. G42 still provides the startup with counsel on various legal and accounting matters, but ultimately ToTok is an independent commercial company. ToTok’s daily operations and all strategic decisions about the company, product, and technology are managed by the ToTok executive team.”

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Murren was asked if he had heard of ToTok, and said, “No, I haven’t.”

He added that “G42 had no involvement on the [lab] project.”

He said G42 had only brokered an introduction to the government of the United Arab Emirates, which sent supplies, including coronavirus test kits. He said the company did not provide resources, technology, or expertise to the lab at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is run by the University Medical Center.

Murren said staff at Nevada’s University Medical Center held a call with G42 to discuss using artificial intelligence in population health and genomic studies, as well as coronavirus testing.

The lab started doing tests last Thursday, Murren added.

“The genomic study was the original intent of the conversation we had with G42,” Murren said. Because G42 is an AI company, he said he hoped to discuss “health security” measures that could be taken in casinos, like thermal cameras to screen for fevers.

“I hope to have those discussions with G42 in the future, but there has been no follow-up on more sophisticated studies,” he said.



Source link

Categories
Health

Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Leaders Change Course


As daily cases in the U.S. pass 50,000, officials stress precautions.

In Columbia, Mo., where coronavirus case numbers are as high as they’ve ever been, contact tracers are overwhelmed. Around Seattle, where a surge is underway, officials warned that social distancing was waning. And in Flint, Mich., where there are worrisome signs after weeks of improvement, the mayor said the city would crack down on late-night parties that have drawn hundreds of young people.

“Someday we will welcome these crowds to our great city,” Flint’s mayor, Sheldon Neeley, said. “Now is not the time.”

As the pandemic spirals further out of control in the United States, politicians and public health officials have become noticeably more stern. New cases reported have increased 90 percent in the United States in the last two weeks. On Thursday, the U.S. also set a single-day case record for the sixth time in nine days, with more than 55,000 new cases announced, and single-day highs in eight states.

In many places, face coverings have gone from suggestions to mandates. Bars have been reopened — and closed again. Domestic travel restrictions have re-emerged. And mayors have told people to shape up and follow the rules.

“I know that wearing a mask is uncomfortable,” said Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, where case numbers are spiking and face coverings are now required. “I know that, unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a political flash point. But I also know that masks save lives.”

In a reversal, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, one of the worst-hit states in the past week, on Thursday ordered residents in counties with 20 or more virus cases to wear masks in public.

Mr. Abbott, a Republican, had previously opposed attempts by Democratic mayors and other local officials to require everyone in their cities to wear masks in public.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that travelers from 15 states with large outbreaks would have to quarantine for two weeks or face up to $7,000 in fines. In Los Angeles County, Calif., where there are more than 2,000 new cases most days, the top public health official said “we urgently need to make a change in the trajectory.” And in Northern California, where the outlook is also bad, leaders in several counties urged residents to celebrate the Fourth of July at home and not test the limits of the law.

“Just because you can does not mean it is safe or that you should rush to do it,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County public health officer.

President Trump plans to celebrate the Independence Day holiday with a fireworks display on Friday at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. About 7,500 people are expected to attend the outdoor event, where masks will be available but not required.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, who said earlier this week that it was Britons’ “patriotic duty” to go to the pub when they reopen on Saturday, has now urged people not to “overdo it.” His warning came after tens of thousands have flocked to beaches, organized illegal music parties and violated social-distancing rules in recent weeks.

Britain has reported the world’s third-highest pandemic death toll, with triple-digit death counts still coming most days.

“Let’s not blow it now, folks,” Mr. Johnson told LBC radio on Friday, weeks after he announced that the country’s “long hibernation” was over and that the virus was under control. Restaurant industry workers have said in British news outlets that they were afraid of going back to work, and concerns are high that pub customers could flout basic rules and trigger new waves of infections.

A spokesman for Mr. Johnson said that pubs could reopen starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, “in the event anybody would attempt to try to open at midnight.”

On Wednesday, the Treasury tweeted that people should “grab a drink and raise a glass” when pubs reopen. The tweet was later deleted. A pub in south London has promised “endless supply” of drinks to “fuel your shenanigans,” after more than three months of closure, which was a first in the history of the country’s pubs.

Pubs — like restaurants, hair salons and other businesses welcoming visitors again on Saturday — will have to maintain a 21-day record of their customers, the government has said, to trace contacts in case of new outbreaks.

In Leicester, 100 miles north of London, pubs and other nonessential businesses will remain closed because of a regional outbreak of virus cases.

The British authorities also announced on Friday that, starting July 10, travelers from countries in Europe including France, Italy and Spain will no longer have to self-quarantine for 14 days. The change will currently only apply to England, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland expected to set up their own rules.

In other news:

  • Brazil, which has been experiencing a surge in virus cases, allowed restaurants and bars to reopen with conditions on Thursday, according to The Associated Press. Gyms, dance, fighting and swimming classes were also authorized to restart, The A.P. said, as long as there is no physical contact, a third of capacity and a time-slot schedule.

  • Starting July 10, England will drop its mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from more than 50 countries but leave the restrictions in place for travelers coming from the United States, deepening the isolation of America. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland apply their own travel policies and may not follow England’s lead in easing restrictions.

  • Residents in nursing homes in Britain will be tested for the virus monthly, while staff members will receive tests weekly, officials announced. According to a survey published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics, 56 percent of the country’s nursing homes have had at least one case since March, with 20 percent of residents in such facilities known to have been infected. Out of the nearly 44,000 reported deaths in Britain, at least 15,500 people have died in nursing homes.

  • Seeking to give his government a fresh start after the pandemic battered the nation, President Emmanuel Macron of France shuffled prime ministers on Friday, trading in the popular incumbent, Édouard Philippe, for a relatively unknown functionary who helped guide the country out of the health emergency, Jean Castex.

  • Spain said on Friday that it would not reopen its borders with Morocco after Morocco’s decision to keep entry points closed that are used by millions of people every summer. The dispute also affects Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves in North Africa. Spain also said that it would bar arrivals from Algeria and China. The European Union reopened its borders this week to travelers from 15 countries, including Algeria, while travelers from China would be permitted if China reciprocates.

  • Austria recorded more than 100 new cases of the virus on a single day this week, its highest such total in more than two months. Many of the confirmed infections are connected to a religious community in Linz, a city in the northern part of the country, and officials closed schools and day care centers in the area for a week. Austria’s health ministry has registered 17,959 cases and 705 deaths.

Vice President Mike Pence changed his travel plans in Arizona after Secret Service agents set to accompany with him tested positive or showed symptoms, two administration officials said on Thursday.

Mr. Pence had been scheduled to visit Arizona on Tuesday, but multiple factors related to the spread of the virus foiled those plans, according to a person familiar with Mr. Pence’s travel.

A swift rise in new cases in the state has overwhelmed testing centers in recent days, and Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, ordered bars, gyms and movie theaters closed this week. In an apparent acknowledgment of outbreaks erupting across the South and the West, the vice president canceled his plan to headline a “Faith in America” campaign rally in Tucson on Tuesday and then tour Yuma with Mr. Ducey.

Instead, Mr. Pence opted for a shorter visit to Phoenix on Wednesday, where he participated in a public health briefing at Sky Harbor International Airport.

“Help is on the way,” Mr. Pence said at a news conference with Mr. Ducey at the airport, after descending the steps of Air Force Two wearing a mask, the latest sign of the administration’s evolving stance on face coverings.

But the positive tests and symptoms of Secret Service agents expected to be in proximity to the man who is second in line for the presidency were some of the factors that prompted his change of schedule, the officials said. The news of the agents who showed symptoms, or tested positive, was first reported by The Washington Post.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Pence did not respond to a request for comment.

The latest illnesses among the small circle of individuals who interact directly with the vice president were a reminder of the dangers of carrying on with campaign and official government travel as the pandemic rages on.

New York, transformed by the virus and protests for racial justice, has been cooped up, and a good, old-fashioned swim “takes the edge off,” said Rachel Thompson, a schoolteacher. She was at Rockaway Beach in Queens on Wednesday as New York City opened its beaches for swimming — just in time for the Fourth of July weekend, when even more people are expected to pack the sand.

Still, several beachgoers that morning, Ms. Thompson included, were feeling a bit jittery about the city’s gradual reopening. An hour after the ban on swimming was lifted, the mayor announced that indoor dining at restaurants would not resume on Monday as anticipated, citing the virus’s rapid spread in other large states.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, worried that large crowds might risk virus transmission, had kept the city’s 14 miles of beaches closed even as temperatures rose — along with frustration from long-quarantined New Yorkers. With an estimated million visitors total on a hot day, they are some of the country’s most crowded shorelines, and people largely access them via subways and buses.

Safety measures include lifeguards in masks carrying waist packs with a face mask, gloves and hand sanitizer. Beachgoers must keep at least six feet apart and wear face coverings when on the sand or the boardwalk. Restrooms will operate at half-capacity, and boardwalk concessions must offer to-go service only.

Hundreds of city workers, deployed as social distancing ambassadors, will hand out masks, keep space between beachgoers, tally beachgoers to prevent overcrowding, tend beach entrances to limit capacity and, if necessary, direct people to less crowded sections.

Worries have lingered about a possible backslide in the state, where, after reining in the virus, there have been a few alarming outbreaks, such those at a house party and graduation party in the suburbs just north of the city.

College students across the country have been warned that campus life will look dramatically different in the fall, with temperature checks at academic buildings, masks in half-empty lecture halls and maybe no football games.

What they might not expect: a lack of professors in the classroom.

Thousands of instructors at American colleges and universities have told administrators in recent days that they are unwilling to resume in-person classes because of the pandemic.

More than three-quarters of colleges and universities have decided students can return to campus this fall. But they face a growing faculty revolt.

“Until there’s a vaccine, I’m not setting foot on campus,” said Dana Ward, 70, an emeritus professor of political studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who teaches a class in anarchist history and thought. “Going into the classroom is like playing Russian roulette.”

This comes as major outbreaks have hit college towns this summer, spread by partying students and practicing athletes.

In an indication of how fluid the situation is, the University of Southern California said on Wednesday that an “alarming spike” in coronavirus cases had prompted it to reverse an earlier decision to encourage attending classes in person.

With more than a month before campuses start reopening, it is hard to predict how many professors will refuse to teach face-to-face classes in the fall. But colleges and professors are planning ahead.

Elsewhere in the U.S.:

  • In Miami-Dade County, Fla., the mayor imposed a countywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., starting Friday; he also rolled back the opening of movie theaters, arcades, casinos, concert halls, bowling halls and adult entertainment venues that recently had their reopening plans approved by the county. Miami-Dade and Broward counties had already announced they were closing beaches for the Fourth of July weekend.

  • Critics of Amtrak’s newly announced cutbacks worry that the rail agency will not bring back service to the long-distance routes it has long sought to end. With ridership down 95 percent and revenue plummeting, Amtrak plans to cut up to 20 percent of its work force by October and suspend daily service on routes that service over 220 communities. Amtrak has received letters from 16 senators asking why it needed to enact such steep cuts since it had already received $1 billion in emergency aid.

China appears to be downplaying expectations ahead of a planned trip next week by a World Health Organization team to the country to investigate the origins of the outbreak.

Since the head of the W.H.O., Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced the trip on Monday, several Chinese officials and experts have said that any investigation into the origins of the virus should not focus only on China.

“It does not matter which country the scientific identification work starts with, as long as it involves all related countries and is fairly conducted,” Zeng Guang, the chief epidemiologist for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the state-run nationalist newspaper Global Times on Tuesday.

Wang Guangfa, a top government health adviser, told Global Times this week that the W.H.O. should also go to Spain. He cited a not-yet-published study by researchers at the University of Barcelona that suggests the virus was present in Spain’s wastewater as early as March 2019.

Independent experts have said the study was flawed, and that other lines of evidence strongly suggest the virus emerged in China late last year.

The virus most likely originated in bats, but the path of transmission is still unknown. Experts say establishing that will be a crucial step in preventing future outbreaks.

The hunt for information has focused on Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus is believed to have first emerged, and specifically the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which was said to have sold wildlife and had links to many of the country’s first reported cases.

Mike Ryan, head of the W.H.O.’s emergencies program, said on Wednesday that the agency would be sending two experts from Geneva to join its China team on next week’s trip. He said one would likely be an epidemiologist and the other an expert in animal health.

Dr. Ryan did not reveal which cities the team was planning to visit. He described it as a “scoping mission.”

Getting answers on the origins of the virus has become more difficult as the issue has become increasingly politicized. China has been on the defensive for months in response to growing criticism from the United States and other countries for its initial mishandling of the outbreak. Officials from both the United States and China have, without providing evidence, accused each other of intentionally releasing the virus.

But at a news briefing this week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman sounded a less-aggressive note.

“China has always believed that virus tracing is a scientific issue, and relevant research should be carried out by scientists and medical experts,” said Zhao Lijian, the spokesman, who in March promoted a theory that the U.S. Army purposely introduced the virus to China.

“China continues to support scientists from all over the world in conducting global scientific research on the source and spread of viruses,” he added.

In an essay for The Times, Deb Perelman, a New York writer and the creator of the food blog smittenkitchen.com, discussed the dilemma facing working parents:

Last week, I received an email from my children’s principal, sharing some of the first details about plans to reopen New York City schools this fall. The message explained that the city’s Department of Education, following federal guidelines, will require each student to have 65 square feet of classroom space. Not everyone will be allowed in the building at once. The upshot is that my children will be able to physically attend school one out of every three weeks.

At the same time, many adults — at least the lucky ones that have held onto their jobs — are supposed to be back at work as the economy reopens. What is confusing to me is that these two plans are moving forward apace without any consideration of the working parents who will be ground up in the gears when they collide.

Let me say the quiet part loud: In the Covid-19 economy, you’re allowed only a kid or a job.

Here are some tips on how to have some socially distanced fun this weekend.

Leaders in many states are urging people to stay at home this holiday weekend. Here are some safe ideas for enjoying the Fourth of July holiday.

Identifying likely voters is a challenge for pollsters in every election. This year, the coronavirus, mail voting and a surge in political engagement may make it even harder than usual.

For now, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s nine-point lead across the critical battleground states is so significant that it is essentially invulnerable to assumptions about turnout, according to New York Times/Siena College surveys of the states likeliest to decide the election. But supporters of Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, are far more likely to be concerned about in-person voting during the pandemic, and his wide polling lead among registered voters could narrow if their concerns persist to the election.

Over all, one-quarter of registered voters in the battleground states said they would feel uncomfortable voting in person.

People were asked if they would feel uncomfortable voting in person if the election were held during the week they were interviewed in June. About 40 percent of Mr. Biden’s supporters said they would feel uncomfortable, compared with just 6 percent of President Trump’s supporters.

This political divide transcends demographics. A young Biden supporter in a rural area, for instance, would be likelier to feel uncomfortable voting than an older Trump supporter in a city, even though the health risk is probably quite low for the Biden voter and potentially quite significant for the Trump supporter.

Most of these voters would go to the polls anyway. But about one-quarter of the uncomfortable voters — or about 6 percent of the overall electorate — said they would feel too uncomfortable to vote in person if the election were held during the week they were interviewed. This includes 8 percent of all of Mr. Biden’s supporters in the battleground states, compared with fewer than 2 percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters.

It is important to emphasize that no-excuse absentee voting, in which any voter can request a mail ballot, is available in all six of the battleground states included in the Times/Siena data.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked a trial judge’s order that would have made it easier for voters in three Alabama counties to use absentee ballots in this month’s primary runoff election.

The court’s brief, unsigned order gave no reasons, which is typical when it rules on emergency applications, and it said the order would remain in effect while appeals moved forward.

The court’s four more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — said they would have rejected Alabama’s request.

Reporting was contributed by Aurelien Breeden, Benedict Carey, Nate Cohn, Richard Fausset, J. David Goodman, Anemona Hartocollis, Annie Karni, Adam Liptak, Raphael Minder, David Montgomery, Adam Nossiter, Elian Peltier, Amy Qin, Christopher F. Schuetze, Mitch Smith, Sabrina Tavernise and Derrick Bryson Taylor.



Source link

Categories
Health

Australia Locks Down 300,000 in Melbourne Area After Coronavirus Surge


MELBOURNE, Australia — Ring Mayar spends all day knocking on doors in the western suburbs of Melbourne, asking residents if they have a cough, a fever or chills.

Even if they do not, he encourages them to get tested for the coronavirus, as the authorities race to catch up with a string of outbreaks that is threatening to recast Australia’s success story in controlling the spread.

“It’s quite daunting,” said Mr. Mayar, the president of the South Sudanese Community Association in the state of Victoria, who has been volunteering in one of the largely immigrant communities where cases are surging.

The rise in infections — Victoria reported 77 new cases Thursday, the most since March — has driven home the outsized impact of the coronavirus on communities in which working-class immigrants and essential workers are particularly vulnerable to the disease. In these places, people often must venture out for jobs that put them at risk of contracting the virus, and communication by the authorities in residents’ native languages can be patchy.

As it has elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus found a hole in Australia’s system: It spread in part because of the sharing of a cigarette lighter among security guards working at a hotel where returning international travelers are being quarantined.

It later circulated in low-income neighborhoods in the Melbourne area with sizable migrant populations, including inside a supermarket distribution center.

The surge shows how even in countries that appear to be on track to safely resume normal life, the virus can quickly resurface. The Victoria outbreaks have stalled the reopening of state borders, undercut plans to create travel bubbles with other countries, and forced 300,000 people back into lockdown.

On Tuesday, the authorities said that people in the 10 worst-affected postal codes would be confined to their homes, except for essential travel, for the next four weeks in an effort to stop the virus’s spread. International flights have been diverted from Melbourne, a city of almost five million people, and an inquiry has been opened into breaches in quarantine protocols.

Officials continued door-knocking and blitz-testing efforts, warning that if residents did not comply, the whole state of Victoria, Australia’s second most populous, could be affected.

“If someone comes to your doorstep and offers you a test, the right answer is yes,” Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “If this continues to get away from us, we will all be in lockdown,” he added.

Before the Victoria outbreaks, the country was recording just a handful of new cases each week, and it had begun easing restrictions with the goal of reopening the country by the end of July.

But over the past two weeks, Victoria has had daily double-digit increases in cases. Though this pales in comparison to places like the United States that have tens of thousands of new cases each day, the rise has rattled the Australian authorities, who have held up the country’s extensive testing program, and its early lockdowns, as keys to its success.

The surge in Victoria follows a familiar pattern: Public health officials around the globe have warned that flare-ups are inevitable even in countries that have largely suppressed the virus as restrictions on people’s movement are loosened.

In China, an outbreak linked to a food market struck Beijing last month, and the authorities responded with targeted lockdowns and widespread testing, a model now being followed in Australia. In Singapore, the virus rapidly multiplied in dormitories crowded with migrant workers.

In Australia, the coronavirus has taken hold in pockets around Melbourne where government messaging has not always been effective because of language barriers and other problems like distrust of the authorities. Fears of testing for the virus run high, and people with low incomes may be less able to stay home from work when ill.

Some of these areas also experience high rates of homelessness and overcrowding, making it difficult for people to adhere to social-distancing guidelines.

“If some of them don’t go to work, and they’re not on the JobKeeper and JobSeeker, they are left on charity to survive,” said Eddie Micallef, the chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, referring to government subsidy measures.

The dangers were foreshadowed in May, when a panel of doctors and experts warned the Australian government that it had missed an opportunity to protect migrant communities.

Mr. Micallef and other community leaders said communication by the state and federal authorities to high-risk groups had fallen short of what would have been necessary to prevent infections. Some said that translated information took too long to reach them, and was not clear.

“You almost need a university degree to try to understand it,” Mohammad Al-Khafaji, the chief executive of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, said of a multi-page document on the coronavirus that the government had translated into Arabic.

He and other experts also warned that lockdowns enforced by the police — especially at a time of global scrutiny of police abuses — may only harm communities already wary of the authorities and exacerbate their sense of isolation.

“We have to get people to understand the importance of being home. That’s not through fines and that’s not through over-policing,” said Rebecca Wickes, an associate professor of criminology and the director of the Migration and Inclusion Center at Monash University in Melbourne. “That’s not going to create the behavior change that we are looking for.”

She added that while a first wave of racism related to the coronavirus had targeted people of Asian descent, a second wave against migrant and ethnic communities was emerging because of misconceptions that these groups did not heed public health advice.

Leaders in the Islamic community also said they worried that anti-Muslim sentiment had risen after reports that one of Melbourne’s clusters had originated at an Eid celebration last month.

It is not these disadvantaged communities that deserve blame, Professor Wickes said, but rather the “global citizens, coming back from their cruises and their ski trips to Aspen. We seem to have forgotten the history of how this virus took hold in Australia.”

For Mr. Mayar, eliminating both the stigma of the virus and the racism that can accompany it comes with every rap on a door: Though he wears gloves, and is careful to keep six feet of distance between himself and the residents, he does not wear a mask.

He acknowledges the risks involved. “But in the end we are humans, and we don’t want to look at one another like aliens,” he said. “Even if we do encounter someone who is ill, we need to show our compassion.”



Source link

Categories
Health

50,000 New Coronavirus Cases In 1 Day : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR


Women wear masks in Houston Wednesday. Harris County requires any business providing goods or services to require all employees and visitors to wear face coverings in areas of close proximity to co-workers or the public, at least through Aug. 26.

David J. Phillip/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

David J. Phillip/AP

Women wear masks in Houston Wednesday. Harris County requires any business providing goods or services to require all employees and visitors to wear face coverings in areas of close proximity to co-workers or the public, at least through Aug. 26.

David J. Phillip/AP

In a grim accounting of the coronavirus’ progress in the United States, another milestone was reached Wednesday: more than 50,000 new cases reported in a single day.

Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks the virus worldwide, says the total number of cases reported in the U.S. stands at 2,686,480, an increase over Tuesday’s figure of 50,700. Deaths attributed to the coronavirus stand at 128,062.

Brazil is ranked second in the world behind the United States, with 1,448,753 cases and 60,632 deaths.

In testimony Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, predicted the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. could soon reach 100,000 per day.

Fauci drew an unfavorable comparison between U.S. and European efforts to control the spread of the virus, noting up to 95% of Europeans were at some point on lockdown compared to 50% of Americans.

In an interview Wednesday with Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s All Things Considered, Fauci conceded the federal government’s inconsistent early guidance on whether to wear face masks was “detrimental” to containing the virus.

But he said he is encouraged by the growing number of Republican leaders now calling on people to wear masks, including Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Referring to his Senate testimony the previous day, Fauci said, “It really does not have to be 100,000 cases a day.”



Source link

Categories
Health

Air Travel a Puzzle in Age of Coronavirus


TSA.gov: “Coronavirus (COVID-19) information.”

Bizjournalis.com: “American, Southwest take different approaches to seat blocking. Will customers care?”

Travelandleisure.com: “American Airlines, United Airlines to Lift Limits on Seating Capacity.”

Conde Nast Traveler: “How Airlines Are Sanitizing Planes Amid Coronavirus.”

CNN: “Refuse to wear a face mask and these airlines may ban you from future flights.” 

National Public Radio: “United Airlines Adds A Step to Check-In: Stating You Don’t Have COVID-19.”

Patch.com: “No Mask? Delta Passengers Who Refuse To Enter No Fly Zone.” 

Newsroom.aaa.com: “AAA Forecasts Americans will take 700 Million Trips this Summer.”

The Points Guy: “What the Heck is a HEPA Filter? How airplane air stays clean.”

Thehill.com: “Airports Beg Government To Set Face Mask Policy For Passengers.”

CDC.gov: “Considerations For Travelers — Coronavirus in the US.”

Mayoclinic.org: “Coronavirus travel advice.” 


The New York Times: “Airlines Say It’s Safe To Travel. But Is it? 

Forbes.com: “American Airlines Ditches Social Distancing, Will Book Planes At Full Capacity.”

Forbes.com: “American, United Airlines Will Go Back To Packing Flights Despite Covid-19 Coronavirus”

Skift.com: “U.S. Airlines Cut Flights as Many Corporations Limit Travel.”

WTOP: “Court Upholds Virginia’s Mask Mandate After Challenge From Fauquier Winery Owner.”

Flyreagan.com. 

Flyreagan.com: “Face Coverings.” 

American Airlines.

News.delta.com: “Delta Expands Safety Commitment By Requiring All Customers To Wear Face coverings Across Travel,” “Delta Welcomes Travelers Back With Layers Of Protection For Safe Travel,” “3 Things to Know About Delta’s Mask-wearing Equipment,” “In the bag: New Snack bags Now Onboard For Domestic Delta Travelers,” “Travel Restrictions.” 

Hub.united.com: “United Airlines Strengthens Onboard Mask Policy To Further Protect Passengers And Employees Against Covid19 Spread.”  

united.com: “United CleanPus.”

Southwest.com: “Enhanced cleaning, physical-distancing measures, and equipped Employees,” “Destinations currently experiencing travel disruptions.”

United.com: “Covid 19 Updates.” 

News.aa.com: “American Airlines Expands Its Clean Commitment by Adding Vanderbilt University Medical Center On New Travel Health Advisory Panel.”

Morgan Durrant. 

Brian Parrish, spokesman, Southwest Airlines. 

Sasha Buchanan. 

Mayo Clinic: “Mayo Clinic experts to help guide Delta Air Lines COVID-19 safety measures.”

ATL.com: “COVID19 Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.”

Broward.org: “Coronavirus Advisories.”





Source link