Covid-19 News: US Breaks Global Case Record – The New York Times

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Credit…Tim Gruber for The New York Times

The United States, after battling the coronavirus for eight months, recorded over 99,000 new cases on Friday, a global record. Two dozen states reported their worst weeks for new cases; none showed any improvement.

The numbers cap the country’s worst week for virus cases, with more than 500,000 new cases overall. The country also passed nine million infections since the pandemic started.

At least 1,200 counties — a full third of the country — now qualify as a virus hot spot, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in private a call with governors on Friday.

Clusters of states appear to be at differing phases of their outbreaks. In the Great Plains, North Dakota and South Dakota have recorded extremely high numbers of cases for weeks; In the Midwest, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are experiencing swift, alarming rises in case counts. Though numbers in states like New Hampshire and Maine remain low, the Northeast is backsliding after long periods of stability. Maine has had three of the four highest single-day totals this week.

Yet experts warn that the overall picture could be a convergence, with the virus resurging to high levels across the entire country.

“We’re going to see much less evidence of regionalization of this virus over the course of the next several weeks,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota. “I think this is going to ultimately end up being an entire country on fire.”

“I don’t see any location in the United States that’s going to be free of a major increase in cases,” he said. “And I think we’re just getting started.”

Hospitalizations and deaths are also trending upward. Across the nation, more than 46,600 people were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, an increase of about 25 percent over the past two weeks, according to The Covid Tracking Project. The country has averaged just over 800 deaths a day over the past week.

On Friday, officials in Utah deployed a statewide wireless emergency alert because of the rising case counts that read: “Almost every county is a high transmission area. Hospitals are nearly overwhelmed.”

More than 1,000 Americans died from Covid-19 on both Wednesday and Thursday, an increase of 16 percent from two weeks ago. The national seven-day average has surpassed 800. In total, more than 229,000 Americans have died from the virus.

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Greece and Austria increased coronavirus measures on Saturday, joining France, Germany, Belgium and Ireland in shutting down large parts of their societies to try to keep their hospitals from being overwhelmed amid vast second-wave surges in coronavirus infections.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with his cabinet in an emergency session on Saturday to weigh new restrictions.

The surges, which have turned the Europe virus map almost a solid bright red, come as the United States is setting records for daily infections. That combination is largely responsible for driving the global caseload to once unimaginable highs. The global daily case count passed 500,000 for the first time on Wednesday, shot past 543,000 on Thursday and rose again on Friday to surpass 548,000, according to a New York Times database.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece unveiled a one-month plan that included a national curfew and mask mandate for indoors and outdoors starting Tuesday. Beyond that, the plan effectively divides the country in two, imposing broad restrictions in the higher-risk zone, which includes greater Athens and Thessaloniki, the second-largest city. Bars and restaurants will close except for delivery and takeout service along with cinemas, gyms and theaters. Schools are to remain open, as will retail stores and banks.

“I cannot shut my eyes to the harsh reality,” Mr. Mitsotakis said in a televised address, noting that the collective efforts to observe existing restrictions had been undermined by a few who had flouted them.

Greece, which only recently started recovering from a decade-long financial crisis, is highly aware of the toll a full lockdown would exact. The economic effects of its first lockdown, imposed during the first wave of the pandemic in March, threw the country back into recession, with the contraction this year estimated to reach up to 10 percent of its gross domestic product. The government has said it plans to tap its cash reserves to prop up businesses and unemployed workers.

Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced a curfew from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. as of Tuesday, and is shutting restaurants to all but takeout service, Reuters reported. Stores, however, are to remain open.

As for Britain, Mr. Johnson has for months resisted calls for a lockdown, though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already shut pubs, restaurants and most retail stores, leaving England an outlier.

The British government’s scientific advisory panel, known as SAGE, estimated this month that England was seeing between 43,000 and 75,000 new infections a day, exceeding worst-case scenarios calculated just weeks ago. Hospital admissions are also running ahead of the worst-case scenario, the panel said.

On Friday, 1,489 patients were hospitalized in Britain with Covid-19 symptoms. Nearly 1,000 patients are in intensive care units, while 274 people died. The country’s total death toll from the virus is 58,925, one of the highest in Europe.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered every visitor to New York to be tested for the coronavirus upon entry, making the state the first to have such a requirement during the worst phase of the pandemic so far.

Mr. Cuomo unveiled the order as the United States is approaching a seven-day average of nearly 100,000 new cases, and deaths from the virus inch closer to 1,000 per day.

New York previously maintained a weekly list of states from which visitors were required to quarantine for two weeks, but abandoned it as the number of states experiencing intense community spread grew to more than two dozen. Mr. Cuomo said that by the state’s own standards, New York’s rise in cases over the past week would have put it on its own quarantine list.

“There will be no quarantine list, there will be no metrics,” the governor said at a news conference on Saturday.

New York’s testing policy has been robust; more than 136,000 people were tested in total on Friday alone.

The state surpassed a total of 500,000 infections for the pandemic on Thursday, the fourth-highest count in the country, after California, Texas and Florida.

The new law applies differently to various travelers. Visitors from neighboring states or New York residents returning to the state will be required to quarantine for at least three days. A negative test on the fourth day would end the mandatory quarantine.

But under the order, anyone visiting from a non-neighboring state must first take a test and submit negative results within three days of arrival.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

At a rally in Michigan on Friday, President Trump repeated an extraordinary and unfounded claim that American doctors were profiteering from coronavirus deaths.

“You know our doctors get more money if somebody dies from Covid,” Mr. Trump said, adding that in Germany and other countries, deaths were characterized differently if there appeared to be multiple causes.

“With us, when in doubt, choose Covid,” he said.

Medical professionals and organizations quickly denounced those comments and lauded the work of nurses, doctors and other health care workers, many of whom have risked their lives and worried about the health of their families as they cared for people who were infected with the coronavirus.

“The suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting Covid-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous and completely misguided charge,” Susan R. Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement on Friday.

“Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” she added.

Misleading claims about inflated death counts related to the coronavirus surfaced as early as April.

Coronavirus cases are rising in Michigan as a third wave of infections spreads across the country. This week, the state recorded a 91 percent increase in new cases from the average two weeks earlier.

Mr. Trump made a similar false claim about physicians at a campaign rally on Oct. 24 in Wisconsin — another state that has seen a surge in cases this month — when he said that “doctors get more money, and hospitals get more money” for reporting more deaths due to the coronavirus.

That prompted a backlash from organizations including the Society of Hospital Medicine, the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“These baseless claims not only do a disservice to our health care heroes but promulgate the dangerous wave of misinformation which continues to hinder our nation’s efforts to get the pandemic under control and allow our nation to return to normalcy,” the American College of Emergency Physicians said in a statement on Sunday.

On the campaign trail, the president has often declared that the virus was vanishing — even as case counts soared — and attacked Democratic governors and other local officials for keeping public-health restrictions in place.

Credit…Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, whose early efforts to lift pandemic restrictions in his state were deemed too hasty even for President Trump, has quarantined himself after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said.

The governor spoke at a mask-optional “Make America Great Again” event on Tuesday in Manchester, Ga.; another speaker at the rally, Representative Drew Ferguson, Republican of Georgia, announced on Friday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Mr. Kemp was exposed “within the last 48 hours to an individual who recently tested positive” and will be quarantining, the governor’s office said in a statement on Friday. The governor tested negative for the virus, the statement said.

It is not clear if Mr. Ferguson was the infected individual the governor’s statement was referring to, but he interacted with Mr. Kemp more than once this week, according to local news.

Pictures of the pro-Trump event, during which Mr. Kemp voiced his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, show dozens of attendees standing close together at an outdoor venue, with many not wearing masks.

The event was intended to counter Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s socially distanced campaign appearance in nearby Warm Springs. No infections have been reported after the Biden event.

Mr. Trump has mocked his opponent for using social-distance circles at his speeches, including the one at the spa town in Georgia, which was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s favorite vacation and rehabilitation site.

Mr. Ferguson said he had cold-like symptoms on Thursday night, but he played down the danger to people he had encountered since contracting the illness. The LaGrange Daily News reported that Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Kemp had appeared together again on Thursday night at an indoor campaign event for a local candidate in Hogansville.

“While the vast majority of my recent schedule has been virtual, we are beginning the process of reaching out to anyone I have seen in recent days,” Mr. Ferguson said, adding that he was well enough to work from home.

Credit…Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

With Thanksgiving less than a month away, the travel industry is focused on a group that has become central to the health of airlines and hotels: those who have yet to commit to plans.

The latest available data shows that 1.1 million people in the United States booked airline travel for any point in November. That figure, from early October and compiled by OAG, a data analytics firm, suggests a tremendous drop in Thanksgiving travel. Last year, 10.7 million people had booked Thanksgiving travel by early October, OAG reported.

That means nine million would-be travelers could be on the fence.

At the same time, airline seating capacity has dropped drastically. The three major domestic airlines — United, Delta and American — plan to make 13.1 million seats available the week of Nov. 23. That’s down from about 20 million seats.

These airlines are also likely to collectively cut one-third of the remaining flights as Thanksgiving week nears, said John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG.

The reason for the drop in expected air travel has a lot to do with the rise of the undecided traveler, he said. Increasingly, people are waiting until a week or two before air travel to buy tickets. This is a huge change from the past and from holiday periods in particular, when plans might be made three to six months in advance.

Fliers’ uncertainty isn’t solely because of fear of infection. People have learned that inexpensive flights can be available on late notice, Mr. Grant said, or they have been put off by canceled flights or airlines’ slowness to refund money if travel plans change.

The upshot: “There are a huge amount of undecided travelers holding off placing their bets,” he said.

Asked to predict how air travel would play out at the end of November, Mr. Grant said many people would stay home. “It could be a last-minute and very busy Thanksgiving if a whole set of conditions occurred,” he said. “I doubt they will.”

Credit…David Rowland/Australian Associated Press, via Reuters

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. This week, Natasha Frost, a native of New Zealand, writes about returning to the country after spending most of this year in New York.

About three weeks ago, I stepped off a plane and into a parallel universe. Here in New Zealand, coronavirus lurks far from the limelight, the recent election was orderly and uncontroversial, and the national mood — for the most part — approximates relief and even elation.

Helped by geographic isolation, an early lockdown and the public’s overwhelming compliance with government-mandated restrictions, the country where I grew up is among just a handful of nations to have eliminated community transmission of the coronavirus.

In Auckland, where I attended high school, groups of friends share plates of cassava fries, punters spill out of bars on lively Karangahape Road, and strangers sit side by side on the bus. After spending most of this year in New York City, it’s all I can do not to jump when someone coughs under their breath or stands a little too close.

On Saturday night, I joined around 500 others at The Hollywood, a converted early 20th-century cinema in west Auckland, to see the New Zealand musician Troy Kingi and his band.

Held less than a month after the city relaxed its final virus restrictions, it was sweaty, euphoric and jam-packed — an epidemiologist’s worst nightmare anywhere else in the world. Barring around a dozen committed mask-wearers and a strongly worded aside from the singer himself about what Covid could do, you might never have known that a pandemic continues to rage outside New Zealand’s walled garden.

The effect is, or may be, something like a sneak preview of a post-virus world. While political leaders in the United States and Europe continue to manage rising case numbers, lurching in and out of lockdown, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s recently re-elected prime minister, is focused on managing a successful recovery.

Kiwis are prepared to play their own part: They’ve taken the instruction to go on vacation “in your own backyard” seriously. Tourist accommodation is booked out months in advance, and vacation destinations like Queenstown are thronged with Aucklanders and Wellingtonians.

The economy has already begun to bounce back. Shamubeel Eaqub, an Auckland-based economist with Sense Partners, told me the country’s worst recession in decades is essentially over.

“Spending is up, job advertisements are up well above Covid levels,” he told me. “We’re out of it.”

Credit…Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

The coronavirus continues to devastate long-term care facilities despite an array of safety measures and bans on visitors put in place months ago to slow the devastation.

More than 87,000 residents and workers have died of the virus, which has infected more than half a million people tied to the facilities. New clusters continue to erupt with numbing regularity: 16 people died this month at a nursing home in Chesterfield, Va.; all 62 residents of a nursing home in Kansas were infected.

At the same time, the damage of solitude is being overlooked, families and advocacy groups say. They say that widespread lockdowns are still necessary to protect people from the virus, but also that facilities must now confront a growing physical and mental toll of social isolation as the pandemic shows no sign of abating.

Separation from family and friends is among the hardest deprivations of the pandemic. Experts say the absence can inflict particularly serious damage on people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, thousands of whom have been confined to their buildings since March.

Operators of long-term care facilities say they are facing an impossible choice between depriving residents of vital human contact and inviting the virus inside.

“We have to walk a very fine line,” said Robin Dale, the president of the Washington Health Care Association, a trade group that has noted a recent uptick in virus cases in the state’s facilities amid a new surge nationally. “We need to work toward more in-person visits, but it is difficult right now.”

Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

While about 85 percent of office workers remain at home in New York City, some corporate leaders, eager for their expensive spaces to hum again, have been offering increasingly generous incentives to bring employees back. The reasons are varied — real estate firms, for example, have a vested interest in demonstrating the safety of office work by engaging in it themselves — but employees and company representatives said it came down to the value of in-person collaboration.

“Working at home was quite isolating,” said Steve Doan, 34, who works in marketing for L’Oréal out of its Hudson Yards offices. “I get people interaction, I get those casual meetings. Instead of scheduling a quick 10-minute conversation, I can just shout across the hall and get a yes-or-no answer.”

And then there are the perks.

Bloomberg LP, whose executives — from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on down — prize in-person work, will pay for commuting costs of up to $75 each day.

JPMorgan Chase and the media conglomerate Hearst have expanded child care offerings. The New York Stock Exchange has arranged for discounted parking. Goldman Sachs offers free lunch.

The real estate company SL Green even offers an educational pod for employees’ children to do remote learning, supervised by tutors paid by the company.

At the same time, a vast majority of those who have been showing up in person to work — particularly those deemed essential, including grocery store workers and delivery people — have not been offered perks to do so and are often paid less than those working from home.

And bringing back any number of office employees carries with it the chance that someone will become infected.

SL Green has had one positive case so far, over the summer; that employee’s close contacts at work were told to stay home and get tested, said Edward V. Piccinich, the company’s chief operating officer. There have been no other cases so far.

“You could pick up anything anywhere,” he said.


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