Covid-19 Information: Dwell Updates – The New York Instances

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N.Y.C. will delay again the start of in-person classes for most students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City on Thursday once again delayed the start of most in-person classes in public schools, acknowledging that the system had still not fully surmounted the many obstacles that it faced in bringing children back during the coronavirus pandemic.

The abrupt announcement was a blow to the mayor’s effort to make New York City one of the few major cities in the nation to hold in-person classes. And it threatened to deepen concerns and confusion over whether the mayor and his administration had mishandled the reopening by announcing deadlines and then pushing them back.

Instead of a triumphant return to schools for all students who wanted in-person learning beginning on Monday, the city will phase students back into classrooms on a rolling basis, starting with the youngest children, who will report to schools next week. Students in pre-K classes and students with advanced special needs will return on Monday.

On Sept. 29, elementary schools will open, and middle and high schools will open on Oct. 1.

All other students will begin the school year remotely on Monday.

The mayor said at a news conference on Thursday morning that he decided to opt for a phased-in reopening after having an hourslong conversation on Wednesday with the leaders of the unions representing the city’s principals and teachers.

Those union leaders have been explicitly warning for weeks that schools were not ready to reopen for myriad reasons, from poor ventilation in some aging buildings to a severe staffing crunch that the principals’ union estimated could leave the city needing as many as 10,000 educators.

Mr. de Blasio said that the teacher shortage was his main reason for again delaying in-person classes.

“We are doing this to make sure that all the standards we’ve set can be achieved,” Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday morning, adding that the reopening plan was derived by studying “the best practices from around the world.”

Over 40 percent of parents have already opted out of in-person classes, and that number is likely to grow, reflecting families’ deep frustration about the city’s reopening effort and skepticism about schools’ readiness.

The biotech company Moderna released a 135-page document on Thursday that details how it is conducting the late-stage trial of its coronavirus vaccine, and how safety and efficacy will be determined.

The document suggests that the first analysis of the trial data may not be conducted until late December, and that there may not be enough information then to determine whether the vaccine works. Subsequent analyses, scheduled for March and May, are more likely to provide an answer.

The company is among the front-runners in the global race to produce a vaccine to fight the pandemic. Moderna’s vaccine uses genetic material from the virus, known as mRNA, to prompt cells in the body to make a fragment of the virus that will train the immune system to fight off an infection.

The vaccine is now in a Phase 3 study that enrolled more than 25,000 of its intended 30,000 volunteers, and Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said the enrollment should be complete in the next few weeks.

About 28 percent of the participants are Black, Latino or from other groups that have been particularly hard hit by the disease. A diverse enrollment has been considered essential.

Half of the participants receive the vaccine, and half receive a placebo shot consisting of salt water. Two shots are needed, four weeks apart. Then the participants are monitored to see if they develop symptoms of Covid-19 and test positive for the virus.

Side effects of the vaccine are also tracked, with participants recording symptoms in electronic diaries, taking their own temperatures, making clinic visits and receiving periodic phone calls to assess their condition. The vaccine can cause transient reactions like a sore arm, fever, chills, muscle and joint pain, fatigue and headaches.

To determine the vaccine’s efficacy, Covid-19 cases are counted only if they occur two weeks after the second shot. Some patients are already two weeks beyond the second shot, but Dr. Zaks said he did not know if any trial participants had contracted Covid-19 yet.

A total of 151 cases — spread between the vaccine and placebo groups — will be enough to determine whether the vaccine is 60 percent effective. The Food and Drug Administration has set the bar at 50 percent.

New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week, totaling 790,000 before adjusting for seasonal factors, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The weekly tally is roughly four times what it was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in March. On a seasonally adjusted basis, 860,000 claims were filed, down from the previous week.

Six months after the shutdowns began, the American economy remains on shaky ground, and layoffs continue at an extraordinarily high level by historical standards.

The situation has been compounded by Congress’s failure to agree on new federal aid to the jobless.

A $600 weekly supplement established in March that had kept many families afloat expired at the end of July. The makeshift replacement mandated by President Trump last month has encountered processing delays in some states and would cover only a few weeks.

“The labor market is stalling,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “We’re facing more headwinds, especially with the stimulus package delayed in Congress.”

New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, totaled 659,000, the Labor Department reported.

President Trump on Wednesday rejected the professional scientific conclusions of his own government about the prospects for a widely available coronavirus vaccine and the effectiveness of masks in curbing the spread of the virus as the death toll in the United States from the disease neared 200,000.

In a remarkable display even for him, Mr. Trump publicly slapped down Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the president promised that a vaccine could be available in weeks and go “immediately” to the general public while diminishing the usefulness of wearing masks despite evidence to the contrary.

The president’s comments put him at odds with the C.D.C., the world’s premier public health agency, over the course of a pandemic that he keeps insisting is “rounding the corner” to an end. Mr. Trump lashed out just hours after Dr. Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It’s just incorrect information.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president insisted, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”

Mr. Trump also said Dr. Redfield “made a mistake” when he told senators that masks were so vital in fighting the disease caused by the virus, Covid-19, that they might be even more important than a vaccine. “The mask is not as important as the vaccine,” Mr. Trump said.

The president has repeatedly claimed that a vaccine could be available before Election Day on Nov. 3, a timeline that most health experts say is unrealistic, prompting concerns that the Food and Drug Administration might give emergency authorization to a vaccine before it has been fully vetted for safety and effectiveness. Nine pharmaceutical companies have pledged to “stand with science” and to not push through any product that didn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Earlier on Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, accused the president of trying to rush out a vaccine for electoral gain.

“Let me be clear: I trust vaccines,” Mr. Biden said. “I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump, and at this moment, the American people can’t either.”

India reported 97,894 new virus cases on Wednesday, its highest one-day increase yet, bringing the seven-day average of new daily cases to 93,199. With 5.1 million confirmed cases, or 378 per 100,000 people, India has world’s second-highest caseload after the United States, according to a New York Times database.

India entered into a strict lockdown in March that was considered largely successful in containing the virus. But the country began lifting restrictions in May, and has felt intense economic pressure to continue reopenings even as cases have exploded.

The economic devastation brought on by the pandemic has imperiled many of India’s aspirations. Previously, India’s improving economy had lifted millions out of poverty. The country was building modern megacities and amassing geopolitical firepower. It aimed to give its people a middle-class lifestyle, update its military and become a regional superpower that could someday rival China, Asia’s biggest success story.

One bright spot has been that India has had far fewer deaths per capita than other countries, which doctors say reflects the country’s younger and leaner population. But some experts also question whether Indian government agencies are unaware of many Covid-19 deaths or are underreporting them.

Stressing the effectiveness of local lockdowns, a W.H.O. official warns of a ‘very serious’ resurgence in Europe.

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned of a “very serious” resurgence of the coronavirus across Europe but said that transmission could be contained by local rather than national measures.

“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us. Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March,” Hans Kluge, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe, told reporters.

The number of virus cases has increased by more than 10 percent in the past two weeks in more than half the countries of Europe, Dr. Kluge said. He noted that in seven countries the number of cases has doubled.

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, they also show alarming rates of transmission,” he said. The region has recorded at least 220,000 deaths from the virus.

“The response to the crisis has been very effective whenever the actions were prompt and resolute, but the virus has been merciless whenever partisanship and disinformation prevailed,” he said, appealing for a coherent collective effort from European countries and more effective communication to combat the growing public fatigue with recommended measures to halt the spread of the virus.

Those measures, not natural causes, were what had brought about the fall in Covid-19 cases across Europe in the summer, and an increase in infections as countries eased controls and opened up their economies was predictable, Dr. Kluge added.

“In many cases you can contain those spikes locally,” he said. “In that sense I would hope that national lockdowns can be avoided as much as possible.”

Britain’s health secretary said on Thursday that almost two million people in northeastern England would be restricted from meeting with anyone outside their households as part of the latest set of local lockdowns in the country. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also warned that the only way to be certain that the country could enjoy the winter holidays “is to be tough now,” after saying the government was doing “everything in our power” to avoid a nationwide lockdown.

For many U.S. businesses, remaining open means renegotiating rent.

Across the United States, many businesses — especially music clubs, gyms, restaurants, bars and others that were forced to close because of the pandemic — are trying to figure out how, or if, they can dig themselves out of debt. For many, it won’t be possible without concessions from their landlord.

After months of closures, many business owners find themselves too deeply in debt to survive without concessions or deferrals. Nearly 73,000 businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic spread to the United States, according to an analysis by Yelp. And the fate of many that remain open increasingly hinges on their ability to renegotiate their leases.

A recent poll by Alignable, a social network for small business owners, found that a quarter of those surveyed had fallen behind on their rent since lockdown orders began. For businesses in the fitness and beauty industries, that number rose to nearly 40 percent.

The problem may worsen now that an initial flood of federal aid has dried up and a sharply divided Congress has been unable to agree on further relief measures. The government’s $525 billion Paycheck Protection Program gave more than five million businesses a one-time cash injection to pay workers and other expenses, including rent, but most recipients have now spent the money.

Retail rent collections plunged in April to just 54 percent of the total owed, according to Datex Property Solutions, a software company that tracks data on thousands of its clients’ retail properties nationwide. By August, collections had rebounded to nearly 80 percent, but some tenants, like movie theaters, clothing retailers, hair salons and gyms, were much further behind.

South Africa will reopen its borders to most countries on Oct. 1, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Wednesday, as the country prepares to ease other restrictions amid an improving virus situation.

“We have withstood the coronavirus storm,” the president said in a national address. “It is time to move to what will become our new normal for as long as the coronavirus is with us.”

Business and leisure travelers entering South Africa, which closed to international passengers in March, will need to present a negative coronavirus test from within 72 hours of their departure or stay in quarantine at their own expense. Anyone showing symptoms will be quarantined until proved to be negative. Mr. Ramaphosa said the government would publish a list of countries with high infection rates that may be subject to travel restrictions.

South Africa will also drop to its lowest alert level starting at midnight Sunday, allowing for indoor gatherings of up to 250 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 500, with gyms, theaters and other venues limited to 50 percent of their capacity. The nightly curfew will also be reduced to between midnight and 4 a.m. Restrictions on sporting events will remain in place, and masks will still be required in public.

“By any measure, we are still in the midst of a deadly epidemic,” Mr. Ramaphosa said. “Our greatest challenge now — and our most important task — is to ensure that we do not experience a new surge in infections.”

South Africa, the epicenter of the outbreak in Africa and a major tourist destination, went into a strict nationwide lockdown in March that included an unpopular ban on cigarette and alcohol sales. In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa noted the “scourge” of violence against women and children during lockdown as well as widespread allegations of corruption related to pandemic relief efforts.

South Africa has recorded at least 653,000 cases of the coronavirus and 15,705 deaths, according to a New York Times database. But the country’s health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, estimated this week that more than a fifth of the population, or 12 million people, had “probably” been infected.

In other developments around the world:

  • New Zealand has entered its first recession in a decade, new economic data showed. Officials said the economy shrank 12.2 percent in the second quarter, the country’s biggest fall on record, amid a nationwide lockdown this spring. On Thursday, the country reported no locally transmitted cases for the third consecutive day.

  • A small group of wealthy countries has bought more than half of the expected supply of the most promising coronavirus vaccines, the British charity group Oxfam said Thursday. Supply deals have been announced for 5.3 billion doses of five vaccines in the last stage of clinical trials. More than 2.7 billion doses, or 51 percent, have been bought by countries including Australia, Britain, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United States as well as the European Union, which together represent about 13 percent of the world’s population. Even if all five vaccines are approved, their combined production capacity of six billion doses is enough for only about three billion people, since each person is likely to need two doses. That means that nearly two-thirds of the world’s population would not have a vaccine until at least 2022, Oxfam said.

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said Thursday that he wanted to increase the number of people who can enter the country each week by about 2,000 starting at the end of next week, pending approval from state governments that would have to allocate more hotel rooms for quarantine. Mr. Morrison’s government imposed a weekly cap of 4,000 arrivals in July amid a second wave of infections, and more than 25,000 Australians are still stranded overseas. A group representing major airlines that service Australia said Wednesday that under the current caps, some Australians might not be able to return home until next year.

  • Top Glove, the world’s largest medical glove manufacturer, on Thursday reported its best financial performance ever because of demand stemming from the pandemic. The Malaysia-based company said its net profit last quarter was 1.33 billion ringgit, or about $321 million, 18 times higher than the same quarter a year earlier. Rights activists have raised concerns about forced labor in Malaysia’s glove industry, which provides two-thirds of the global supply, leading U.S. Customs and Border Protection to impose an import ban on two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries in July. The company, which says it has begun reimbursing foreign workers for the fees they paid recruitment agencies, said on Thursday that it was “making good progress” in working with the U.S. authorities to lift the ban.

New Jersey’s leaders reach a deal for a ‘millionaires tax’ to address the fiscal crisis.

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, joined legislative leaders to announce a budget deal on Thursday that includes a higher tax rate for residents earning more than $1 million a year.

The agreement also includes a recurring $500 rebate for families with at least one child and an annual income of less than $150,000 a year for couples and $75,000 for single parents.

The move, which has been panned by Republicans and some business leaders as a risky step that could lead to an exodus of the state’s wealthiest residents, comes amid a growing national debate over whether to increase taxes on the rich to help address a widening income gap.

Facing a fiscal crisis brought on by the urgent health needs of the pandemic and the monthslong shutdown of businesses, lawmakers agreed to raise the tax rate on earnings over $1 million to 10.75 percent, up from 8.97 percent. Individuals earning more than $5 million were already taxed at the higher rate.

The deal underscores the shifting political climate and a recognition that the wealthy may need to contribute more to the state’s recovery with so many residents out of work and struggling to feed their families. More than 1.5 million residents have filed for unemployment benefits since Mr. Murphy implemented a lockdown to help stop the spread of the virus, which has led to the deaths of more than 16,000 New Jersey residents.

Some of the biggest companies in the United States, including Microsoft, Facebook and Google, have tried to support their employees who are parents by offering paid time off and subsidized child care. Other companies have gotten creative, hosting online camps or hiring teachers and turning their empty offices into remote schools for employees’ children.

Yet more than three-quarters of employed parents say their workplaces have not provided additional time off or money for child care, according to a survey of 1,081 parents by Morning Consult for The New York Times. Workers who are highly educated and high-earning are significantly more likely to receive time off, the ability to work flexible hours or subsidized child care or tutoring.

During the pandemic, Congress authorized 12 weeks of partial paid leave for parents whose children’s schools or child care centers were closed. But at least half of workers were ineligible, and the crisis has lasted much longer than the leave covered.

Many companies can’t afford to offer extra benefits. Other employers are having to rethink caregiving benefits for the pandemic, because the circumstances are so different from what workers typically need.

Flexibility is the most common benefit employers are providing, according to surveys. Eighty-six percent of 1,087 human resource professionals surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management said they were offering flexible hours. Half of working parents in the survey by Morning Consult for The Times said their employers were letting them shift their hours.

Less than 10 percent of employers are offering subsidies to pay for child care. Yet money for babysitters or teachers may be more valuable for parents than flexibility or even time off. Although a parent might ordinarily need a finite period at home for something like the birth of a baby, now children need long-term care or daily in-person help with online school.

U.S. ROUNDUP

The University of Michigan’s graduate student strike is over.

Graduate students at the University of Michigan returned to work on Thursday morning after an eight-day strike to demand more protection from the coronavirus when teaching, as well as increased assistance with child care and other concessions.

The strike by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, one of the nation’s most intense conflicts over teaching during the pandemic, roiled the campus less than a month after students returned for classes. About 90 percent of the university’s undergraduates take a course taught entirely or in part by a graduate student, according to court filings.

In settling the strike, the university said it had “created a stronger process to address health and safety concerns” for graduate students working on campus and would allow the graduate student instructors to appeal any decision requiring them to work on campus. It also made what it called “temporary enhancements” to student child-care subsidies.

The vote to end the strike, which began Sept. 8, was 1,074 to 239, with 66 abstentions. The union said the university had made an offer “with substantive progress toward a safe and just campus.”

Public employees are prohibited from striking by state law in Michigan. The university had gone to court to seek an injunction ending what it called an illegal strike, and the union faced possible financial penalties.

In other developments around the United States:

  • The University of Georgia said on Wednesday that it would not be able to host on-campus voting at a student center this fall over concerns about long lines and “insufficient indoor air space” for social distancing. It said it would provide a shuttle to other voting sites, and that other sites could be made available for in-person voting with the state’s approval. Critics noted that the university’s football team has not canceled its Oct. 3 season opener, but the university said the game would be held in an outdoor stadium with “substantially reduced capacity.” In its weekly coronavirus report on Wednesday, the university said a total of 421 positive tests had been reported from Sept. 7 to 13, most of them students, a decline of more than 70 percent from the previous week.

  • At an event for Hillsdale College in Michigan on Wednesday, Attorney General William P. Barr likened stay-at home-orders to centuries of forced labor in the United States under slavery. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” he said. Mr. Barr was an early and vocal critic of state efforts to prevent large gatherings during the first wave of the pandemic in April, in particular those covering large congregations in churches.

  • Gov. David Ige of Hawaii said Wednesday that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state will no longer have to self-quarantine for 14 days, as long as they can provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure. Travelers who arrive while their test results are still pending will have to stay in quarantine until they receive them. The quarantine requirement, which was put in place in March, has devastated Hawaii’s crucial tourism sector, and efforts to lift it have already been postponed twice.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Nick Bruce, Stacy Cowley, Sydney Ember, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Jeffrey Gettleman, Denise Grady, Anemona Hartocollis, Jennifer Jett, Alex Marshall, Claire Cain Miller, Claire Moses, Anna Schaverien, Nelson D. Schwartz, Christopher F. Schuetze, Eliza Shapiro, Daniel E. Slotnik, Katie Thomas and Sameer Yasir.

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