Key Data of the Day
The U.S. reports its highest single-day virus death toll of the month.
Officials across the United States reported at least 1,470 deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day total yet in August, according to a New York Times database, and a reflection of the continued toll of the early-summer case surge in Sun Belt states.
More than half the deaths reported on Wednesday were spread across five states that saw some of the most dramatic case spikes in June and July. Texas reported more than 300 deaths Wednesday. Florida more than 200. And Arizona, California and Georgia all reported more than 100 each.
Even as the number of new cases has fallen from its late July peak, deaths have remained persistently high. For more than two weeks, the country has averaged more than 1,000 deaths a day, more than twice as many as in early July.
The last six weeks have marked a tragic reversal of months of progress in reducing deaths. By early summer, deaths had declined to fewer than 500 per day, far below the peak of more than 2,000 daily in April. But even as death reports reached their nadir, the rebound was already being predicted because of the Sun Belt outbreaks.
Because some people do not die until weeks after contracting the virus, reports of additional deaths can remain high even after new case reports start falling. Arizona, where case numbers have been falling for weeks, posted one of its highest daily death totals on Wednesday. Though new cases are showing sustained growth in only two states, deaths are trending upward in 14.
With the exception of three days this summer, Wednesday’s death total was the country’s highest since late May. The figure was higher on each of those three days because a single state reported large numbers of backlogged deaths from unspecified days. Tuesday’s death toll of 1,450 had also been the highest since late May, excluding the three anomalous summer days.
Efforts to reach an agreement on another pandemic stimulus package could get even tougher after weekly new jobless claims fell below one million for the first time since March and the federal budget deficit continued to hit record highs, reaching $2.8 trillion in July — two major elements that could shift the negotiating landscape.
Republicans and Democrats have been at odds over how much to spend on another round of stimulus aid, with Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, pushing for at least $2 trillion and the White House insisting on staying around $1 trillion.
Democrats have insisted that much more than $1 trillion is needed for humanitarian and economic reasons. Republicans have objected to that price tag, with some lawmakers and White House officials saying the economy is beginning to recover and doesn’t need that level of support and that the United States cannot afford to keep piling on debt.
Those positions could further harden given that weekly jobless claims, which had been above one million for months, fell below that number last week, with 963,000 people filing first-time claims for benefits under regular state unemployment programs. On Thursday, Ms. Pelosi doubled down on the Democrats’ position, saying that they would not agree to a stimulus package unless it provided at least $2 trillion of additional aid.
Ms. Pelosi also said she did not plan to deliver her convention speech from Washington, signaling that she did not expect in-person negotiations in the coming days.
The Treasury Department said on Wednesday that the budget deficit had reached a historic high of $2.8 trillion, in large part because of spending from the first $2.2 trillion pandemic package that lawmakers approved in March.
Even before those numbers were released, some Republicans in Washington were already saying they hoped no additional aid would be forthcoming because of the ballooning deficit.
“From my standpoint, the breakdown in the talks is very good news. It’s very good news for future generations,” Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said in an interview last week with Breitbart News. “I hope the talks remain broken down.”
But economists warn it is too early to withdraw aid, especially given that the virus has not abated and the pace of rehiring has slowed. Millions of Americans remain out of work and much of the spending power from the last stimulus package has run out, including an extra $600 per week in unemployment aid.
“It remains quite stunning that Congress has yet to agree on a fresh round of relief legislation with so many Americans hurting financially,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economist at Bankrate.com.
In other U.S. news:
The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Rhode Island to make voting by mail easier in the November election. The court rejected a request from Republicans that it block a lower court’s order, which had suspended a requirement that absentee ballots be completed in front of witnesses or a notary.
Five months after AMC Theatres closed all its U.S. cinemas — crowded indoor spaces not being the best places to be during a pandemic — the company announced that it would reopen more than 100 theaters across the country on Aug. 20. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the company said it would price all movies that day at 15 cents, so “moviegoers can again enjoy the magic of the big screen at 1920 ticket prices.” Twitter users were less than thrilled by the gimmick. “Only 15¢ for the chance to catch a deadly virus!” one wrote. “Bargain of a lifetime.”
Trump’s testing czar expresses satisfaction with testing levels.
The Trump administration official in charge of coronavirus testing said on Thursday that the United States was doing enough testing to slow the spread of the virus — an assessment at odds with that of public health experts who say more testing with faster results is necessary.
“We are doing the appropriate amount of testing now to reduce the spread, flatten the curve, save lives,” the official, Adm. Brett M. Giroir, told reporters on a conference call.
Dr. Giroir made his remarks as the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the administration was investing $6.5 million in two commercial laboratories to beef up testing capacity. He argued that the pandemic was moving in the right direction, with the number of hospitalizations declining nationally, and said the test positivity rate — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was under 7 percent.
“It is clear that the number of cases is decreasing,” he said, “and that decrease is real.”
Some experts disagreed.
“Unfortunately, the United States needs to improve testing to reduce spread and flatten the curve,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While the national positivity rate may be around 7 percent, she noted, “several states have double-digit positivities.”
Mark McClellan, director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, who was commissioner of food and drugs under former President George W. Bush, agreed, writing, “I don’t think we have enough, which seems reinforced by the significant continuing community spread and resulting disruptions to schools, economy, etc.”
Dr. Giroir said the issue was not the total number of tests being conducted, but how tests were being deployed. He said that by testing a minimum of 2 percent of the population, health professionals could detect hot spots and outbreaks, and then increase testing in those areas to get a better handle on the spread of the virus.
“You beat the virus by smart policies supplemented by strategic testing,” he said. “You do not beat the virus by shotgun testing everyone all the time.”
In June, as the coronavirus crisis appeared to hit a lull in the United States, teachers and parents across the country finally began feeling optimistic about reopening schools in the fall. Going back into the classroom seemed possible. Districts started to pull together plans. Then came a tweet.
“SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” President Trump declared on July 6, voicing a mantra he would repeat again and again in the coming weeks, with varying degrees of threat, as he sought to jump-start the nation’s flagging economy.
Around the same time, caseloads in much of the country started to climb again. In the weeks since, hundreds of districts have reversed course and decided to start the school year with remote instruction.
By some estimates, at least half of the nation’s children will now spend a significant portion of the fall, or longer, learning in front of their laptops.
Rising infection rates were clearly the major driver of the move to continue remote learning. But Mr. Trump’s often bellicose demands for reopening classrooms helped harden the view of many educators that it would be unsafe.
“If you had told me that Trump was doing this as a favor to the schools-must-not-open crowd, I’d believe you,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Indeed, as the president has pushed for schools to reopen, parents have largely moved in the other direction. A recent Washington Post poll found that parents disapprove of Mr. Trump’s handling of school reopening by a two-thirds majority. And a new Gallup poll shows that fewer parents want their children to return to school buildings now than did in the spring.
On Wednesday, New York City’s bid to become the only major district to bring students back into physical classrooms hit a snag. The city’s influential principals’ and teachers’ unions called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the start of in-person instruction by several weeks before phasing students back into buildings throughout the fall. Students are scheduled to return to classrooms one to three days a week starting Sept. 10.
On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio announced that all of New York City’s roughly 1,300 public school buildings will have a full-time, certified nurse in place by the time schools are scheduled to physically reopen.
The announcement fulfills a major safety demand made by the city’s powerful teachers’ union, which has said its members should not return to schools until there is a nurse in every building. The union has also demanded that the city upgrade outdated ventilation systems and create a clearer protocol for testing and tracing in schools.
The collateral damage from the pandemic continues: Young adults and Black and Latino people in particular describe rising levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, and increased substance abuse, according to findings reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a survey, U.S. residents reported signs of eroding mental health, in reaction to the toll of coronavirus illnesses and deaths and to the life-altering restrictions imposed by lockdowns.
The researchers argue that the results point to an urgent need for expanded and culturally sensitive services for mental health and substance abuse. The online survey was completed by 5,470 people in late June. The prevalence of anxiety symptoms was three times as high as those reported in the second quarter of 2019, and depression was four times as high.
The impact was felt most keenly by young adults ages 18 to 24. According to Mark Czeisler, a researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, nearly 63 percent had symptoms of anxiety or depression that they attributed to the pandemic and nearly a quarter had started or increased their uses of substances to cope with their emotions.
Overall, nearly 41 percent reported symptoms of at least one adverse reaction, ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Nearly 11 percent said they had suicidal thoughts in the month leading up to the survey, with the greatest clusters being among Black and Latino people, essential workers and unpaid caregivers for adults. Men were more likely to express such feelings than women were.
The researchers, who represent a joint effort largely between Monash University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said the symptoms were less pronounced in older groups.
New unemployment claims in the U.S. fell below one million last week for the first time in months.
The number of Americans filing for state unemployment benefits fell below one million last week for the first time since March. But layoffs remain exceptionally high by historical standards, and the pace of rehiring has slowed.
The Labor Department on Thursday reported that 963,000 people filed first-time claims for benefits under regular state unemployment programs last week. Another 489,000 applied under the federal program that covers independent contractors, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for regular state unemployment insurance.
Unemployment filings have fallen sharply since late March, when nearly 6.9 million Americans applied for benefits in a single week. But the numbers still dwarf those in any previous recession: Before the coronavirus pandemic, the worst week on record was in 1982, when 695,000 people submitted claims.
Unlike the temporary layoffs that dominated in the first weeks of the crisis, most of the new job losses are likely to be permanent.
“It’s even more frightening now,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “There’s no silver lining of quick recalls like the higher levels that we saw back in March.”
And the broader economic recovery has lost momentum. Employers brought back 1.8 million jobs in July, the Labor Department reported last week, well below the 4.8 million in June. More timely data from private-sector sources suggests that the slowdown has continued in August, and economists warn that it could worsen now that key federal programs to help households and businesses weather the pandemic have expired.
A $600 federal boost to unemployed workers’ weekly state checks ran out at the end of July, and negotiations between the White House and Democrats to reinstate it have come to a stop. Many jobless Americans have seen their weekly income slashed by half or more. State unemployment benefits vary widely: In Massachusetts, some workers can receive more than $900 a week, while in Mississippi, the maximum benefit is just $235. Benefits tend to be less generous in states with larger Black populations.
New Zealand has a fresh outbreak. Can it beat the virus again?
As the week began, New Zealanders were celebrating 100 days without community spread of the coronavirus. Now residents of the country’s largest city, Auckland, are back under lockdown as health officials battle a fresh outbreak.
Four new cases in Auckland were reported on Wednesday, and by Thursday the cluster had grown to 17. Epidemiologists are now racing to solve the mystery of how the virus found its way back into the isolated island nation.
One theory is that it entered through cargo and spread through a cold storage warehouse where some of the infected New Zealanders worked. But epidemiologists say that is a long shot because human-to-human contact was the most likely source.
Another focus is quarantine facilities for returning travelers — the source of a recent outbreak in Melbourne, Australia.
Either way, New Zealand is rolling out a huge testing, contact tracing and quarantine blitz that aims to quash Covid-19 for the second time.
“Going hard and early is still the best course of action,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday, at what will once again be a daily coronavirus news briefing. “We have a plan.”
Many other places — including Australia, Hong Kong and Vietnam — have confronted second waves after early triumphs. But New Zealand has responded with a level of urgency and action that it hopes will be a model for how to eliminate a burst of infection and rapidly reopen.
India has now reported the fourth most coronavirus-related deaths in the world after the United States, Brazil and Mexico. It surpassed Britain on Thursday.
The country has recorded at least 47,033 deaths so far, according to a New York Times database. Britain’s total as of Thursday morning was 46,706.
India also recorded its largest tally of new infections to date on Thursday, with 66,999 new cases and more than 800 fatalities. Most new cases are coming in five of its component states, including those containing Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi.
At least 2,411,547 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in India overall, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which said that nearly 1.7 million people, or about 71 percent, have recovered. Only the United States and Brazil have reported more total cases.
Health experts have been warning that India’s mortality statistics are likely to worsen, because state-run hospitals are overflowing with patients while private hospitals remain out of reach for most Indians.
In late March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the most severe lockdowns anywhere, ordering all Indians to stay indoors, halting transportation and closing most businesses. But as the country’s ailing economy started contracting, officials lifted some of the restrictions, hoping to ease the suffering.
People soon thronged markets with little heed for maintaining social distance, and congested areas soon experienced an explosion of new infections. Some areas then reimposed restrictions, only to lift them again.
Two people in China who had seemingly recovered from the virus tested positive again.
A 68-year-old woman in the Chinese province of Hubei, where the global coronavirus outbreak was first detected, tested positive again this month after recovering from a case of the virus recorded in February, officials said. Another man who had recovered from an infection in April was also found to be an asymptomatic carrier in Shanghai this week.
The two cases, which came months after their original diagnoses, have revived concerns about mysterious second-time infections that have baffled experts since the early days of the pandemic, with some blaming testing flaws.
The authorities in Jingzhou, a city near Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak, said on Wednesday that the woman had tested positive again on Aug. 9, after having recovered for several months from a virus infection first recorded in early February. The nucleic acid test results for her contacts were all said to be negative.
“There have been very few reports of cases of possible ‘relapses’ or second-time Covid-19 infections, and we still don’t fully understand the risk of this,” said Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong. “But we would expect that some infected persons could be vulnerable to reinfection, particularly as time passes.”
“It’s a feature of other respiratory infections that we can be reinfected with similar viruses throughout our lives, and it is unlikely that a Covid-19 infection (or a vaccination) would provide lifelong immunity against a subsequent infection,” Dr. Cowling added. “What we have not yet understood is the duration of immunity.”
Other experts have said it is highly unlikely that the coronavirus would strike the same person twice within a short window, and reports of reinfection may instead be cases of drawn-out illness, with the virus taking a slow burn even months after their first exposure.
A 35-year-old man from Yemen living at the Vial camp on Chios tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday night, a Greek Migration Ministry official said, and a woman employed at the camp by a branch of the European Asylum Support Office tested positive on Thursday.
The man, who arrived from neighboring Turkey in September, has been hospitalized on the island with mild symptoms. Another 25 camp residents believed to have been in contact with him have been quarantined, the official said. Contact tracing for the woman was still in progress.
The Chios infections are not the first in a Greek migrant camp — dozens of cases were reported in April at three facilities on the mainland. But they are the first in an island camp, where overcrowding is the most intense. Conditions at the island camps, long criticized as unsanitary and inhumane by human rights groups, have become particularly worrying amid the pandemic.
Greece has generally weathered the pandemic better than many of its neighbors, recording around 6,000 cases since late February and just over 200 deaths. But daily case reports have increased sharply in recent weeks, prompting the authorities to reintroduce some restrictions. The country reported 262 cases on Wednesday, its highest figure so far; only 29 of them appeared to be linked to foreign arrivals.
In other news from around the world:
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who offered this week to be “injected in public” with Russia’s coronavirus vaccine to allay concerns about its safety, may not be cleared to do so until May 1, 2021, his government said on Thursday. A spokesman for Mr. Duterte said the president would not take part in Russian-financed clinical trials scheduled to begin in the Philippines in October.
Canada has established a system to divert fresh food that would otherwise go unused because of restaurant shutdowns to food banks and other relief agencies. Marie-Claude Bibeau, the agriculture minister, said on Thursday that the project would prevent about 12 million kilograms of food, including eggs, meat, seafood and vegetables, from going to waste.
Officials in multiple provinces in China said the virus had been found on packaging of seafood imports from Ecuador, and Shenzhen said a sample of frozen chicken wings from Brazil had tested positive. Officials in China only tested for coronavirus genetic material on the imported food and packaging, but it is unclear if there was infectious virus and there is no evidence to suggest that people can get the virus from food.
The British government wants to appoint a “head of pandemic preparedness” to review the government’s approach and to act on “lessons learned” from the coronavirus crisis, according to a job posting on an internal website that was reported by British news outlets. Britain is among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and many experts, lawmakers and health care professionals say the government’s handling of the situation is to blame.
In New York City, this spring was nearly as deadly as the worst months of the 1918 flu pandemic, an analysis shows.
The 1918 influenza pandemic is the deadliest in modern history, claiming an estimated 50 million lives worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States.
By some measures, the toll of the Covid-19 surge in New York City this spring resembled that of the flu pandemic. In March and April, the overall death rate was just 30 percent lower than during the height of the 1918 pandemic in the city, despite modern medical advances, according to an analysis published on Thursday in JAMA Network Open.
Many people liken Covid-19 to seasonal influenza while regarding the 1918 pandemic as a time of incomparable devastation, said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and lead author of the analysis.
“But in reality, what 1918 looked like is basically this,” he said, except with dead bodies in refrigerated trucks rather than piled in the streets.
Nearly 33,500 people died in New York City from March 11 to May 11 of this year, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In a city with a total population of nearly 8.3 million, this amounts to an incident rate of 202.08 deaths per 100,000 person-months — a standard way of denoting deaths over time.
The researchers then looked at deaths in October and November of 1918, the peak of the city’s flu outbreak. Dr. Faust identified 31,589 deaths among 5.5 million city residents, for an incident rate of 287.17 deaths per 100,000 person-months. In all, the death rate in the city last spring was about 70 percent of that seen in 1918.
People today are conditioned by the “medical-industrial complex” to think that all diseases can be conquered, said Nancy Tomes, a historian of American health care at Stony Brook University.
That may be why many Americans, particularly those who believe the pandemic is overblown, are so angered to find that a virus has upended their lives, she added.
“In 1918, people were very familiar with infectious diseases and dying from them,” Dr. Tomes said. “There was not this whole kind of expectation that we have today that this shouldn’t be happening.”
Does it seem as if everyone’s got it better than you?
A beach house, a suburban home, a home without children, a home filled with family: These days, everyone wants something that someone else has. You are not alone if you are filled with “quarantine envy.” Here are some ways to deal with it.
Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Alan Blinder, Ben Casselman, Damien Cave, Emily Cochrane, Katie Glueck, Jason Gutierrez, Jan Hoffman, Mike Ives, Thomas Kaplan, Niki Kitsantonis, Apoorva Mandavilli, Elian Peltier, Amy Qin, Christopher F. Schuetze, Eliza Shapiro, Mitch Smith, Deborah Solomon, Serena Solomon, Eileen Sullivan, Lauren Wolfe, Sameer Yasir and Elaine Yu.